Poem #27: The Muse's Favor by Priscilla Jane Thompson

Estimated Reading Time:  4.5 minutes
Book cover to African American Poetry - An Anthology, 1773-1927, Dover Edition.

TitleThe Muse's Favor

Priscilla Jane Thompson

Source:  African-American Poetry: An Anthology, 1773-1927. Dover Thrift Editions. Ed. Joan R. Sherman. 1997. ISBN:  978-0-486-29604-3.

Link: You can find this poem on this website.


Oh Muse! I crave a favor,
Grant but this one unto me;
Thou hast always been indulgent,
So I boldly come to thee.

For oft I list thy singing,
And the accents, sweet and clear,
Like the rhythmic flow of waters,
Falls on my ecstatic ear.

But of Caucasia's daughters,
So oft I've heard thy lay,
That the music, too familiar,
Falls in sheer monotony.

And now, oh Muse exalted!
Exchange this old song staid,
For an equally deserving: —
The oft slighted, Afric maid.

The muse, with smiles, consenting,
Runs her hand the strings along,
And the harp, as bound by duty,
Rings out with the tardy song.

The Song

Oh, foully slighted Ethiope maid!
With patience, bearing rude upbraid,
With sweet, refined, retiring, grace,
And sunshine lingering in thy face,
With eyes bedewed and pityingly,
I sing of thee, I sing of thee.

Thy dark and misty curly hair,
In small, neat, braids entwineth fair,
Like clusters of rich, shining, jet,
All wrapt in mist, when sun is set;
Fair maid, I gaze admiringly,
And sing of thee, and sing of thee.

Thy smooth and silky, dusky skin,
Thine eyes of sloe, thy dimple chin,
That pure and simple heart of thine,
'Tis these that make thee half divine;
Oh maid! I gaze admiringly,
And sing of thee, and sing of thee

Oh modest maid, with beauty rare,
Who e'er hath praised thy lithe form, fair?
Thy tender mien, thy fairy tread,
Thy winsome face and queenly head?
Naught of thy due in verse I see,
All pityingly I sing of thee.

Who's dared to laud thee 'fore the world,
And face the stigma of a churl?
Or brook the fiery, deep, disdain,
Their portion, who defend thy name?
Oh maiden, wronged so cowardly,
I boldly, loudly, sing of thee.

Who've stood the test of chastity,
Through slav'ry's blasting tyranny,
And kept the while, their virtuous grace,
To instill in a trampled race?
Fair maid, thy equal few may see;
Thrice honored I, to sing of thee.

Let cowards fear thy name to praise,
Let scoffers seek thee but to raze;
Despite their foul, ignoble, jeers,
A worthy model thou appear,
Enrobed in love and purity;
Oh, who dare blush, to sing of thee?

And now, oh maid, forgive I pray,
The tardiness of my poor lay;
The weight of wrongs unto thee done,
Did paralize My falt'ring tongue;
'Twas my mute, innate, sympathy,
That staid this song, I sing of thee. 


This poem had me smiling all the way through.  First, the invocation of the muse struck me as interesting as I recalled such a beckoning of the gods is something often seen in classic poetry of Greek and Roman traditions. Thompson draws upon this to flip the script in some rather fun and powerful ways.  Invoking the Muse, she first praises her and then challenges her for inspiration to do something better than boring white women's music (Caucasia's daughters, sheer monotony) while remembering how she has been denied equal opportunity to be heard. The Muse provides a "tardy song"--a term that can both mean a slow-delivered song as well as a song that is overdue.  

Then, we have the song.  It's a curious thing to split a poem in such a way--5 stanzas of engaging the Muse and eight stanzas of the song itself. But the song's celebration of Black beauty is another one of those things that seem so revelatory in the sense that knowing such poems spoke to the ways that Black bodies in direct contrast to negative, hostile, and racist cultural depictions (many of which continued even through to today).  White American culture demands beauty to adhere to white standards and has refused to see beauty except to exoticize and fetishize. This operates at such a level that Google has had to reprogram its algorithms to not default to white women when people do image searches for "beauty" and similar terms.  

So that Thompson takes this poem to invoke the literary traditions and project attention onto the beauty of Black bodies is rather striking.  And of course, she does it justice by not just speaking of the beauty but that the beauty exists despite the ways in which Black people have been treated in the US.

Those are my thoughts.  What did you find interesting about the poem?

About the reflections
This poem is part of a 365 day challenge project that focuses on a poem a day.  Similar projects have included short shorties and photo reflections. Part of the intention of this year's project is to develop a better appreciation and means of reflecting on poetry, something that has never been a strong suit for me.  These reflections therefore do not represent a definitive assessment of the work by me. They are merely an opportunity for me to have a public conversation about what they mean in order to help myself better understand them and mayhaps have a conversation with readers for further insight.  

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