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“On Virtue”

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Allegory of Virtues by Antonio da Correggio

Sometimes the virtues we strive for seem like they are impossibly out of reach. No matter how hard we try to make ourselves patient, wise, or forbearing, we constantly fall short of our expectations.

Part of self-reflection is learning to know our own short-comings. To recognize the things that try our patience the most. To predict the times our tempers are likely to flare.

But knowing that we are flawed doesn’t excuse us from trying to be better. Virtue is closer and more attainable than we might think. Phillis Wheatley, a black slave and the first African-American woman to publish a book, writes a beautiful allegory about just how easy virtue is to find for those that go looking for it.


“On Virtue”

by Phillis Wheatley

O thou bright jewel in my aim I strive
To comprehend thee. Thine own words declare
Wisdom is higher than a fool can reach.
I cease to wonder, and no more attempt
Thine height t’explore, or fathom thy profound.
But, O my soul, sink not into despair,
Virtue is near thee, and with gentle hand
Would now embrace thee, hovers o’er thine head.
Fain would the heaven-born soul with her converse,
Then seek, then court her for her promised bliss.
Auspicious queen, thine heavenly pinions spread,
And lead celestial Chastity along;
Lo! now her sacred retinue descends,
Arrayed in glory from the orbs above.
Attend me, Virtue, thro’ my youthful years!
O leave me not to the false joys of time!
But guide my steps to endless life and bliss.
Greatness, or Goodness, say what I shall call thee,
To give an higher appellation still,
Teach me a better strain, a nobler lay,
O Thou, enthroned with Cherubs in the realms of day!

What poems have taught you the most about yourself? Let us know in the comments.

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