Skip to main content
The Folger Spotlight

Poetic Pairings: Phillis Wheatley and Provisioner Red

Shakespeare’s Sisters: Say Her Name celebrates the poetry of Black women in America. This virtual seminar and writing workshop for adults explores poets such as June Jordan, Ai, Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, Tracy K. Smith and others. From the Black Arts Movement to Cave Canem to recent Poet Laureates, these poets speak to the contemporary moment with many still alive and producing work.

We are pleased to bring you a special collaboration with DCanter wines, pairing a poem from the Shakespeare’s Sisters curriculum with a recommended wine each Monday of the seminar. Folger Poetry Coordinator and Shakespeare’s Sisters co-leader Teri Cross Davis provides context for the choices.

This poem is written by Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), who wrote it for an African painter to whom she felt a connection. Historians think it was Scipio Moorhead (hence the S.M.) but what this really gets to is in many ways she became this oddity, like show pony, an African who had been taught to read and write and in S.M. was someone who knew of her unique experience because he was in the same boat. She had to feel lonely and spotlighted at the same time.



To S.M., A Young African Painter, On Seeing His Works
by Phillis Wheatley

To show the lab’ring bosom’s deep intent,
And thought in living characters to paint,
When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight?
Still, wond’rous youth! each noble path pursue,
On deathless glories fix thine ardent view:
Still may the painter’s and the poet’s fire
To aid thy pencil, and thy verse conspire!
And may the charms of each seraphic theme
Conduct thy footsteps to immortal fame!
High to the blissful wonders of the skies
Elate thy soul, and raise thy wishful eyes.
Thrice happy, when exalted to survey
That splendid city, crown’d with endless day,
Whose twice six gates on radiant hinges ring:
Celestial Salem blooms in endless spring.
Calm and serene thy moments glide along,
And may the muse inspire each future song!
Still, with the sweets of contemplation bless’d,
May peace with balmy wings your soul invest!
But when these shades of time are chas’d away,
And darkness ends in everlasting day,
On what seraphic pinions shall we move,
And view the landscapes in the realms above?
There shall thy tongue in heav’nly murmurs flow,
And there my muse with heav’nly transport glow:
No more to tell of Damon’s tender sighs,
Or rising radiance of Aurora’s eyes,
For nobler themes demand a nobler strain,
And purer language on th’ ethereal plain.
Cease, gentle muse! the solemn gloom of night
Now seals the fair creation from my sight.

Wheatley lived during a time of great upheaval, when the American colonies were finding their way towards independence and the forming of a new nation. Though cruelly forced from her home at a young age, Wheatley found a way to create something new in a new location. To celebrate this idea of the unexpected flourishing in unusual environments, DCanter recommends pairing this week’s poem with Provisioner Wines Red Table Wine 2019 ($15).

Provisioner Wines Red Table Wine 2019

From: Arizona

Description: Juicy with lots of jammy flavors, relatively low tannin, and quite fruity. This easy drinking wine finishes with a bit of baking spice heat.

Pairs with: This is a great red to enjoy on its own after work, with spaghetti and meatballs, or grilled poultry.

To the surprise of many, the Southwestern United States is forging the path towards high-quality wine production. By looking at what works well in other areas of the winemaking world with similar climate and soil conditions, wine producers in places like Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico are putting their own spin on varietals best known for wines from renowned regions in the Old World, like the Rhône Valley in France. In celebration of this new and unexpected path for US wine, enjoy this red blend from Provisioner Wines, an easy-going “wine for the people.” —DCanter


DCanter logoDCanter: A Wine Boutique is a wine retailer located on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, specializing in sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines from small producers around the world as well as fun, yet informative, wine education. Their selections are available in-store, online, or through a personalized wine shopping service known as Concierge by DCanter. Visit them at to learn more.

The first session of Shakespeare’s Sisters: Say Her Name begins Wednesday, October 6, exploring Phillis Wheatley and poets of the Colonial and Revolutionary Period. Register online or call the box office at 202.544.7077.