Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

Gratefully copied from the Jupiter Hammon Page at on the
San Antonio College LitWeb

An Evening Thought:

Salvation by Christ, With Penitential Cries 


by Jupiter Hammon


Negro Church, South Carolina (1936)
photograph by Walker Evans (1903-75)

Jupiter Hammon's " An Evening Thought " was the first written work by an African-American to be published in the United States. The text below is taken from Benjamin Brawley's Early Black American Writers (1935).

The poem is admirable for its gravity and beauty but also notable for features of American minority literature:

Discussion questions for Early American Literature: The publication date of 1760 locates the poem in the Enlightenment period, when religion became less central to the state's, government's, or dominant culture's identity.

At first sight this poem looks and sounds sincere, gentle, fluent, sweet, but simpleit rehearses familiar religious words and phrases, with occasional turns and elaborations, but what does a reader do with the poem besides accept or reject religious reinforcement? Or say, "That's nice." (It is!)

1. If the rich and powerful are shifting their attention from scriptural religion to capitalism, science, and technology, then whom does scriptural religion begin more to serve?

2. In Hammon's poem, how does religion serve the interests of an under-represented or minority group, in this case enslaved Americans? If religion may or may not speak as regularly for the nation's elites, how does it change to speak for the people left out of the elites' institutions of education and government?

2a. Can the meaning of the poem become sharper, less escapist and more real-world if we apply the concept or code of "double language" to the poem?

2b. What social or personal issues might Hammon's religious phrases and figures refer to, in addition to religion? Can politics and religion ever be entirely separate?

3. How does this poem feel more like "literature" than our other readings for today? 

An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, With Penitential Cries 

[1.1]     Salvation comes by Christ alone,
[1.2]     The only Son of God;
[1.3]     Redemption now to every one,     [redemption 1a: The action of freeing a prisoner, captive, or slave by payment]
[1.4]     That love his holy Word.

[2.1]     Dear Jesus, we would fly to Thee,
[2.2]     And leave off every Sin,
[2.3]     Thy tender Mercy well agree;
[2.4]     Salvation from our King;

[3.1]     Salvation comes now from the Lord,
[3.2]     Our victorious King.
[3.3]     His holy Name be well adored,
[3.4]     Salvation surely bring.

[4.1]     Dear Jesus, give thy Spirit now,
[4.2]     Thy Grace to every Nation,         ["every nation" may work against racial discrimination; cf. 8.2, 12.3, 14.4]
[4.3]     That han't the Lord to whom we bow,         ["han't" = has or have not]
[4.4]     The Author of Salvation.           [double language: "Salvation" may refer to deliverance from slavery as well as sin]

[5.1]     Dear Jesus, unto Thee we cry,
[5.2]     Give us the Preparation;
[5.3]     Turn not away thy tender Eye;
[5.4]     We seek thy true Salvation.

[6.1]     Salvation comes from God we know,
[6.2]     The true and only One;
[6.3]     It's well agreed and certain true,
[6.4]     He gave his only Son.

[7.1]     Lord, hear our penitential Cry:      [penitential = expressing penance, sorrow, suffering]
[7.2]     Salvation from above;
[7.3]     It is the Lord that doth supply,
[7.4]     With his Redeeming Love.    [redemption 1a: The action of freeing a prisoner, captive, or slave by payment]

[8.1]     Dear Jesus, by thy precious Blood,
[8.2]     The World Redemption have:           ["the World"; cf. "every nation" 4.2 + 12.3]
[8.3]     Salvation now comes from the Lord,
[8.4]     He being thy captive slave.          ["captive slave" exceeds biblical / metaphorical referent > specific application?]

[9.1]     Dear Jesus, let the Nations cry,
[9.2]     And all the People say,
[9.3]     Salvation comes from Christ on high,
[9.4]     Haste on Tribunal Day.                              [= Hurry now, Judgment Day]

[10.1]    We cry as Sinners to the Lord,
[10.2]    Salvation to obtain;
[10.3]    It is firmly fixt his holy Word,
[10.4]    Ye shall not cry in vain.

[11.1]    Dear Jesus, unto Thee we cry,
[11.2]    And make our Lamentation;
[11.3]    O let our Prayers ascend on high;
[11.4]    We felt thy Salvation.

[12.1]    Lord, turn our dark benighted Souls;         [color code?]
[12.2]    Give us a true Motion,                               [motion = emotion, feeling, action of the soul]
[12.3]    And let the Hearts of all the World,            ["all the world" cf. 4.2, 8.2, 14.4]
[12.4]    Make Christ their Salvation.

[13.1]    Ten Thousand Angels cry to Thee,
[13.2]    Yea, louder than the Ocean.
[13.3]    Thou art the Lord, we plainly see;
[13.4]    Thou art the true Salvation.

[14.1]    Now is the Day, expected Time;
[14.2]    The Day of Salvation;
[14.3]    Increase your Faith, do not repine:
[14.4]    Awake ye, every Nation.                              [cf. 4.2, 8.2, 12.3]

[15.1]    Lord, unto whom now shall we go,
[15.2]    Or seek a safe Abode ?
[15.3]    Thou hast the Word Salvation Too,
[15.4]    The only Son of God.

[16.1]    Ho! every one that hunger hath,
[16.2]    Or pineth after me,
[16.3]    Salvation be thy leading Staff,
[16.4]    To set the Sinner free. . . .   [double language: "set . . . free" from slavery as well as sin? cf. "salvation" + 8.4: "captive slave"]          

[17.1]    Come holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,
[17.2]    The Object of our Care;
[17.3]    Salvation doth increase our Love;
[17.4]    Our hearts hath felt thy fear.

[18.1]    Now Glory be to God on High,
[18.2]    Salvation high and low;
[18.3]    And thus the Soul on Christ rely,
[18.4]    To heaven surely go.

[19.1]    Come, Blessed Jesus, Heavenly Dove,
[19.2]    Accept repentance here;
[19.3]    Salvation give, with tender Love;
[19.4]    Let us with Angels share.