American Poetry in 19th Century notes for BA Engish Honours students. American Poetry in nineteenth-century notes for BA English Students for BBMKU and VBU Universities.
Age of Experimentation
The History of nineteenth-century American poetry was a record of constant experimentations in the art of versification. American poetry was in a state of turmoil and flux. The American poets made serious and concerted efforts to give it a sense of direction. They tried to explore the American verse’s possibilities and provide a new face-lift to its fading image. American poetry consolidated its position by the end of the 19th century.
Revolt Against 18th-Century Poetry
Romantic fervent was the dominant aspect of 19th-century American poetry. There was a strong reaction against the spirit of the 18th century. American poets revolted against the disintegrating authorities and institutions of Europe. They challenged the conventions of their elders and probed their own hearts with a restlessness born of impatient curiosity. They refuse to be guided by literary and critical concepts of the 18th century, which had lost their relevance.
Poetry of Emotions
The 19th-century American poets liberated the sensibility of the people by revolting against the authority of 18th-century neo-classicism. There was a sharp reaction against the ‘age of reason, which exalted reason at the expense of emotion. The nineteenth-century American poets challenged the philosophy of neo-classicism, which was based on the infallibility of reason, to which feelings and passions must be subjected.
Nineteenth-century poetry was known for its spontaneous emotional flow. Intense emotion supported and fed the new poetry. The entire gamut of human emotion – joy, love, fear, regret, hope, faith, etc. was richly reflected in the poetry of Romantics.
Stress on Imagination
Imagination was the main driving force of 19th-century American poetry. There was a complete liberation of Imagination and spirit from the fetters of the 18th-century cult of reason. There was also a new emphasis on Imagination. The power of seeing and sympathizing became a powerful element. Romantics regarded the freedom of Imagination as a creative and elastic power in the poet. Only with Romantics did Imagination really come to the forefront. The new flowering of creative energy in the nineteenth century was the result of the decay of the eighteenth neo-classicism. Imagination can allow them to see beyond the surface reality to the immanent ideal.
Love of Nature
The neo-classical treatment of Nature had not been extensive in the 18th century. The real Nature of the countryside did not appeal to 18th-century poets. They, thus, methodized Nature. A note of personal observation and sincere emotion was absent from this poetry. During the 19th century, American poets were awakened to the studies of Nature. They began to leave the cultivated landscape of the city and went out into the open country to observe Nature for themselves. Deep interest was shown in Nature, not only as a center of beautiful scenes but also as an informing and spiritual influence on life. Communion with Nature tended to develop fundamental virtues such as religious reverence, courage, self-reliance, and integrity. The Romantic poets considered Nature as a moral teacher.
Race of Nationalism
The growth of nationalism was another important feature of 19th American poetry. The Romantic Movement gradually awakened national consciousness. The American poets celebrated the pride of national character, inspiring feelings for the national glory and inculcating a love for the country. They were inspired by American history, American culture, and the American regional atmosphere. There was a call for a new and indigenous body of writings, The growth of nationalism served to stimulate home production and led to idealistic impulses; W.C. Bryant was the first national poet who embodied the national spirit in his poetry. He was an early advocate of the rights of labor and abolition.
Spirit of Transcendentalism
19th-century American poetry was influenced by transcendentalism also. It emerged after 1830 in the works of Emerson and Thoreau. It aimed at the destruction of the Calvinist theory about the depravity of human nature. It propagated faith in man’s capacity for knowing truth intuitively by attaining knowledge transcending the reach of senses. The transcendentalists advanced the realistic conception of reality. Nature was accepted as the symbol of the spirit that was immanent in all the universe. They regarded conscience as the highest faculty given by God. America was the leading exponent of American Transcendentalism. He claimed the glorification of intuition and repudiation of all external religious authority. He observed that the voices of orthodoxy, of tradition, were to be rejected in favor of one’s own intuitive searchings. Man’s only duty was to be true to himself. Thoreau favored the richness and value of experience. He sought to attain it at a higher level of human consciousness. The inner life was, to Thoreau, an end in itself.
Rise of Realism
19th-century American poetry showed a sudden shift toward – realism. The American poets showed greater awareness of life and its problems. They showed an enlightened sympathy for the poor and the oppressed. There is a good deal of realism in their nature poetry. It dealt with humble life and individual rights. It showed a definite provincial bias. The poets described life as they had seen it. The Local Movement was an honest attempt to view American life. Whittier was the poet of the humbler New England people who based his poems on local scenes and characters. Washington Allston dealt with men of humble origin. Bret Hart’s poems were a mixture of realism and sentiments. He dealt with the life of the cabin, the mining camp, and the gambling hall. Henry Timrod was the poet laureate of the South.