American Romantic Poetry 1800-1850

(Your cheat-sheet covering a whole lot of information about Romantic poets for your test!)

Aspects of Romantic Poetry:

"Fireside Poets" and "Schoolroom Poets"

·1 The individual (especially the artistic individual) is more important than society

·2 "Real" nature is better than "artificial" civilization

·3 Intuition is a better source of art than logical thinking

·4 Poetry is better than science (science "destroys" truth because it diminishes the role of the imagination)

·5 Youthful innocence is better than educated sophistication

·6 The wisdom of the past is better than the promises of progress

·7 Intellectual, spiritual and moral development can be pursued by witnessing nature’s beauty

·8 Older local or folk cultures are better sources of wisdom than new artificially-created "societies" like cities

·9 One should examine the strange / occult / monstrous / diseased areas of life and the world as well as those that are seen as conventionally beautiful

1. Many Romantic poems copy European poetry in terms of style and imagery, but the language, subject matter, and setting helps them fit into the Romantic mold (as did their tendency to look back at the past).

2. It is often preachy, kind of obvious (like a Hallmark card), and sometimes more concerned with being "pretty" than being insightful.

3. Called "Fireside Poets" because their poems were often read aloud around the fire for family entertainment; called "Schoolroom Poets" because their poems were often memorized and studied in school.

4. Choice of subject matter – love, patriotism, nature, family, God, religion – topics that were comforting (not challenging) to their audience.

Three Major Romantic Poets

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

William Cullen Bryant


Oliver Wendell Holmes


·1 America’s first "celebrity poet"

·2 Introduced poetry to the "common man" in America

·3 Poems reinforced traditional (i.e. rural) values and made the reader feel safe and comfortable

·4 Most critics argue that he is more important historically than he is in any literary sense

·5 Sample Poems: "The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls" and "The Cross of Snow"

·1 Poems are notable because they show a transition to "American English" (not British English)

·2 Believed that divinity could be found in nature (though he was raised with Calvinist beliefs)

·3 His poems were meant to be read as spiritual advice, though they may not seem like it today

·4 Sample Poem: "Thanatopsis"

·1 His poetry is lighter than that of most other poets of the time

·2 He was raised as a Calvinist, but spent much of his life criticizing Calvinism

·3 He was a wealthy and worldly man (not very "Romantic" attributes)

·4 Sample Poem: "The Chambered Nautilus"


Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman were groundbreaking American poets who cannot be classified as totally Romantic or totally Realist. Because of this, they are sort of their own category. Why look at Whitman and Dickinson Together? They were both "misfits" in society, but we look at them mainly because of the contrasts:



Poems compared to a large canvas being painted (a "wide-screen movie")

Poems compared to tiny sketches ("a black and white photo")

Writing seemed to be deliberately careless or "sloppy"

Writing was precise, mechanical, measured, and extremely controlled

Worked in free verse

Worked in slant rhyme

Topics were often concrete

Topics were often metaphors

Goals were lofty

Goals were modest

Walt Whitman

Emily Dickinson

§1 Born in Long Island in 1819

§2 He went to school until he was 11, and then he was mostly self-taught (he was a voracious reader)

§3 He never went to college

§4 He taught school and wrote articles for newspapers, but was always hurting for money

§5 In 1855 he published his first edition of Leaves of Grass (considered his masterpiece), hoping to become a true "national poet"

§6 He was a tireless (and sometimes shameless) self-promoter

§7 Emerson loved Leaves of Grass and said it was full of "incomparable things incomparably said"

§8 Whitman revised (mainly by adding poems) Leaves of Grass 8 times after the first publication—there were 9 different editions after he died

§9 There is still argument over how great he really was (or how good his poems really are), but all American poets look to him as either a role model or someone to react against

Things to look for in his poems

§1 The use of catalogs

§2 Free verse* and informal language

§3 The theme of faith in the common man

§4 Notable diction

§5 Nature imagery

§6 The "Omniscient I" point of view

§7 The idea of true heroism

§8 Parallelism

*Free verse=poetry organized around the cadence of speech and patterns of images instead of meter and rhyme (it’s not really "free")

§1 Born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts

§2 Had a very traditional childhood, rich parents, "normal" teenage years, etc.

So what happened?

§3 In 1854, her father took her away from Amherst to interrupt a potential love affair between Emily and a married man

§4 In 1862, a married minister that she was in love with moved away from Amherst

§5 Soon after the second failed love affair, she completely withdrew from society and stayed mostly in her bedroom for the next 24 years (she still read a great deal and communicated with people through letters—she never read Whitman’s poetry because she had heard it was "disgraceful")

§6 Her poems were published after she died, but they were heavily edited by family members to make them "better."


Original Poem

We passed the School, where Children


At Recess—in the Ring—

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—

We passed the Setting Sun

(Holds together with the "N" sound)

Revised Edition

We passed the school where children played

Their lessons scarcely done;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

(Holds together with the traditional rhyme scheme)

§1 In 1955, the official collection of her poetry was published, unedited.

Things to look for in her poems

§2 Slant rhyme

§3 Metaphor

§4 Unusual line breaks, punctuation, and capitalization