The American Renaissance- american Romanticism and Transcendentalism 1800 1865 American Romanticism

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The American Renaissance- American Romanticism and Transcendentalism 1800 - 1865
American Romanticism

American Romanticism is the real beginning of American literature; the first American

Renaissance; emphasis upon the imaginative and emotional qualities of literature, a liking for the picturesque, the exotic, the sensuous, the sensational and the supernatural; the strong tendency to exalt the individual and the common man. Romanticism in America coincided with the period of national expansion and the discovery of a distinctive American voice.

1. Valued feeling, intuition, idealism, and inductive reasoning.

2. Placed faith in inner experience and the power of the imagination.

3. Shunned the artificiality of civilization and seek unspoiled nature as a path to spirituality.

4. Championed individual freedom and the worth of the individual.

5. Saw poetry as the highest expression of the imagination.

  1. influence of English romanticism, but search for truly American topics and settings;

  2. celebration of American landscapes and values; short story and novel are most important;

  3. essay established as an American genre

Romantic Subject Matter

  • The quest for beauty: non-didactic, "pure beauty."

  • The use of the far-away and non-normal - antique and fanciful:

  • Escapism - from American problems.

  • Interest in external nature - for itself, for beauty:

    1. Nature as source for the knowledge of the primitive.

    2. Nature as refuge.

    3. Nature as revelation of God to the individual.

Washington Irving 1783-1859

  • An American author, essayist, biographer and historian.

  • Patriotic themes, works about America.

  • Folk tradition – every country has to have its own literary tradition. He invented many folk tales which imitated European tales.

1819 Rip Van Winkle – the story of a man who sleeps for twenty years and awakens to a greatly changed world.

1820 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - The story is set in 1790 in the countryside around the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town (historical Tarrytown, New York), in a secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow.

Washington Irving is the father of American short stories; the first who won international fame; representative works The Sketch Book and two important humorous short stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
James Fenimore Cooper 1789-1851

  • Father of American fiction

  • A prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century, he is best remembered as a novelist who wrote numerous sea-stories and the historical novels.

1823-1841 The Leatherstocking Tales- a series of five novels about the frontier life of American settlers

SATURDAY CLUB – established in 1855, an informal monthly gathering in Boston, Massachusetts, of writers, scientists, philosophers, historians and others. The black and Jews weren’t allowed to be in the Club.
American Transcendentalism

Nineteenth Century American Transcendentalism is not a religion (in the traditional sense of the word); it is a pragmatic philosophy, a state of mind, and a form of spirituality. It is not a religion because it does not adhere to the three concepts common in major religions: a. a belief in a God; b. a belief in an afterlife (dualism); and c. a belief that this life has consequences on the next (if you're good in this life, you go to heaven in the next, etc.). Transcendentalism is monist; it does not reject an afterlife, but its emphasis is on this life.

The movement was based on a fundamental belief in the unity of the world and God. The soul of each individual was thought to be identical with the world — a microcosm of the world itself. The doctrine of self-reliance and individualism developed through the belief in the identification of the individual soul with God.


1. Everything in the world, including human beings, is a reflection of the Divine Soul

2. People can use their intuition to behold God’s spirit revealed in nature or in their own souls.

3. Self-reliance and individualism must outweigh external authority and blind conformity to tradition

Philosophy of Transcendentalism:

1) Divinity dwells in the world, not separately.

2) The human soul participates in Divinity.

3) Individuals make decisions for themselves best.

4) Nature and mind nurture each other.

5) Logic leads to a lower order of truth than instinct.

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882

  • One of the major American philosophers, Transcendentalist.

  • The chief spokesman of Transcendentalism;

  • Nature regarded as the Bible of New England Transcendentalism;

  • “The American Scholar” regarded as America’s Declaration of Intellectual Independence


1841 Self-reliance

1836 Nature

1837 American Scholar

1838 Divinity School Address
Henry David Thoreau 1817-1862

  • A disciple of Emerson.

  • He put Emerson’s philosophy into practice.

1849 Civil Disobedience – an essay in which Thoreau argues that individuals should not permit governments to overrule their consciences, and that they have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice.

1854 Walden
Margaret Fuller 1810-1850

  • She was a member of the Transcendental Club.

  • The Transcendentalists published a quarterly magazine, The Dial, which lasted four years and was first edited by Margaret Fuller and later by Emerson.

Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849

1849 Annabel Lee – the poem explores the theme of death of a beautiful woman.

1846 The Philosophy of Composition – an essay that elucidates a theory about how good writers write when they write well.

1845 The Raven

  • The gothic tales:

1839 The Fall of the House of Usher

1843 Black Cat

1838 Ligeia – hallucinatory experience.

1835 Berenice

  • Detective talesPoe is considered the father of a detective story; they are based on hard logic, they are not weird.

1841 The Murders in the Rue Morgue

1844 The Purloined Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne 1804-1864

  • A close friend of the group of Transcendentalists (optimistic); his prose was rather pessimistic.

  • His black vision of life and human being;

  • Evil as the trade mark of human being;

  • Symbolism and allegory (allegorical stories, stock characters).

  • Hawthorne wrote novels,( The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables) short stories(Young Goodman Brown), and a biography of his friend, Franklin Pierce.

  • He was an inventor of short stories:

Herman Melville 1819-1891

  • A simple sailor that is why his sea descriptions are so realistic.

1846 Typee - a classic in the literature of travel and adventure partly based on his actual experiences as a captive on the island Nuku Hiva in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands, in 1842.

1847 Omoo: A Narrative of the South Seas – a sequel to Typee, and, as such, was also autobiographical. After leaving Nuku Hiva, the main character ships aboard a whaling vessel which makes its way to Tahiti, after which there is a mutiny and the majority of the crew are imprisoned on Tahiti. The book follows the actions of the narrator as he explores Tahiti and remarks on their customs and way of life.

1851 Moby-Dick; or, The Whale - the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whale-ship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat and bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.

1853 Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street – the story is narrated by the lawyer, the man who employs Bartleby. For the first days, Bartleby works very well, but one day he refuses to examine the copies by saying, “I would prefer not to.”
Philip Freneau was an ardent patriot who is still remembered as the "Poet of the American Revolution."
Walter “Walt” Whitman 1819-1892

Whitman (1819-1892) was one of the great innovators in American literature. In the cluster of poems he called Leaves of Grass he gave America its first genuine epic poem. The poetic style he devised is now called free verse that is, poetry without a fixed beat or regular rhyme scheme.

  • A humanist, he was a part of the transition between Transcendentalism and Realism, incorporating both views in his works.

  • He’s among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse.

  • Work is important, every work should be respected.

  • His poetry praises nature and the individual human’s role in it.

1855 Leaves of Grass – a poetry collection.

  • Song of Myself-the most stunningly original poem ever written by an American

  • Whitman’s greatness is visible in many of his poems, among them “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” a moving elegy on the death of Abraham Lincoln

I Hear America Singing.

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe

and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off


The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-

hand singing on the steamboat deck,

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing

as he stands,

The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morn-

ing, or at noon intermission or at sundown,

The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,

or of the girl sewing or washing,

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,

The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young

fellows, robust, friendly,

Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Whitman, loved his country. He loved the bustle of the cities and the expansiveness of the wilderness. He loved technology and industry and he loved the American promise of freedom. But most of all, Whitman loved the regular Joes of America, the guys and gals with regular jobs, living out their regular American dreams. The poet had some serious American pride, and he directed it toward everyone.

"I Hear America Singing" is all about this American pride. And it's specifically about pride in work. In the poem, Whitman describes the voices of working Americans toiling away at their jobs; he details the carpenter and boatman, the hatter and the mason, the mother and the seamstress alike. And by imagining that they are all singing, he celebrates them and their hard work, and also creates a vision of an America unified by song and hard work. The poem ends by bringing all of these singing laborers together. They are "each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else." The speaker acknowledges that each of their laboring is unique, that their work belongs to themselves.

The poet hears the "varied carols" of all the people who contribute to the life and culture of America. The mechanic, the carpenter, the mason, the boatman, the shoemaker, and the woodcutter all join in the chorus of the nation. The singing of the mother, the wife, and the girl at work expresses their joy and their feeling of fruition. These are highly individualistic men and women. Each person sings "what belongs to him or her and to none else."

This poem underscores Whitman's basic attitude toward America, which is part of his ideal of human life. The American nation has based its faith on the creativeness of labor, which Whitman glorifies in this poem. This poem expresses Whitman's love of America — its vitality, variety, and the massive achievement which is the outcome of the creative endeavor of all its people. It also illustrates Whitman's technique of using catalogs consisting of a list of people.
1. In what century did Walt Whitman live?

  1. eighteenth

  2. nineteenth

  3. twentieth

  4. seventeenth

2. What is Whitman most known for, other than his poetry?

  1. His delicious cooking

  2. His voice

  3. His awesome beard

  4. His peg leg

3. Who did Whitman memorialize in "O Captain! My Captain!"

  1. George Washington

  2. Abraham Lincoln

  3. Andrew Jackson

  4. Jean-Luc Picard

4. In the first line of "I Hear America Singing," what does the speaker actually hear America singing?

  1. "varied carols"

  2. "Christmas carols"

  3. "the theme from Star Wars"

  4. "a couple of different songs"

5. Other than singing, what are the good folks of this poem up to?

  1. Eating

  2. Researching time machines

  3. Playin' baseball

  4. Working

Emily Dickinson 1830-1886

  • She wrote over 1700 poems.

  • The poems are recognisable by the numbers, they don’t have titles.

  • Form:

  • short poems with short lines,

  • very compact and brief images that are not conventional,

  • very shocking images,

  • Plenty of capital letters

  • She doesn’t use a lot of punctuation, instead, she used dashes,

  • Metaphors are weird and puzzling

  • Majority of her poems is grave and sad.

  • Themes: death, (mental) pain, religion, secrets and truths about human nature, about writing itself, love, eroticism.

  • Rebellion against God: as a child she postponed making the statement that she was Christian. She resigned from the religious boarding school.



Mainly optimistic

Mainly pessimistic




Serious about life, death, sex

Form: long lines, plenty of repetitions and descriptions

Form: brief short lines, compact images

Patriotic themes, sense of history

No patriotism

Because I could not stop for Death

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,

And I had put away

My labor, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove

At recess, in the ring;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, be passed us;

The dews grew quivering and chill,

For only gossamer my gown,

My tippet only tulle.

We paused before house that seemed

A swelling of the ground;

The roof was scarcely visible,

The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmised the horses' heads

Were toward eternity.
Summary of the poem

“Because I Could Not Stop for Death” reveals Emily Dickinson’s calm acceptance of death. It is surprising that she presents the experience of death not as frightening but as that of receiving a gentleman caller. In the first Stanza the poet describes the journey to the grave .The journey begins when ‘Death’ comes calling at her door step like a gentleman caller in a carriage. Immortality is also a passenger in the carriage. The trip continues in the second Stanza where the carriage moves along at an easy and unhurried pace. This is perhaps a suggestion that death has arrived in the form of a disease that takes its own time to kill. Then, in the third Stanza, they pass through ripe fields ,school grounds and the setting sun. Here, Emily seems to be reviewing the stages of her life: childhood (school), maturity (the ripe, hence, “gazing” grain), and the descent into death (the setting sun)–as she passes to the other side. She experiences a chill during the journey because she is not warmly dressed. In fact, her garments are more appropriate for a wedding, representing a new beginning, than for a funeral, representing an end. Her description of the grave as her “house” indicates how comfortable she feels about death. There after centuries pass, so pleasant is her new life that time seems to stand still, feeling “shorter than a Day”. The overall theme of the poem is that death is notto be feared since it is a natural part of the endless cycle of nature. Her view of death may also reflect her personality and religious beliefs. On the one hand, as a spinster, she was somewhat reclusive and introspective, tending to dwell on loneliness and death.

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