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Chapter 5: Bryant and the minor poets

William Ellery Leonard, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English in the University of Wisconsin.

I. Bryant

  • -- Early years. -- Bryant's Independence as a poet. -- the unity of his life and work. -- his ideas. -- nature in Bryant. -- Bryant's images. -- his “surveys.” -- Bryant as naturalist. -- his fairy poems. -- his translations. -- his artistry. -- his style. -- limitations as a poet. -- Bryant as critic and editor. -- his prose style. -- Bryant the Citizen.

To the old-fashioned prayers which his mother and grandmother taught him, the little boy born in Cummington, Massachusetts, 3 November, 1794, a year before John Keats across the sea, was wont to add (so we learn from the Autobiographical Fragment),1 his private supplication that he might “receive the gift of poetic genius, and write verses that might endure.”

This inner urge and bent, witnessed so early and so long, could not be severed, early or late, from the unfathomable world. Bryant's was a boyhood and youth among the virginal woods, hills, and streams, among a farmer folk and country labours and pastimes, in a Puritan household, with a father prominent in the state as physician and legislator, whose independence and breadth are attested by a leaning toward that liberalism which was to develop into the American Unitarian movement and by his enlightened devotion, as critic and friend, to the boy's ambitions in rhyme. Private tutoring by unpretending clergymen, a year at poverty-stricken Williams College, law studies in an upland office, distasteful practice as a poor country lawyer, a happy marriage with her whose “birth was in the forest shades,” 2 death, season by season, of those nearest and dearest, travel down among the slave-holding states and out to the prairies of Illinois, where his brothers and mother were for a second time pioneers, with voyages on various

1 Godwin, Life, vol. I, p. 26.

2 Poems, p. 82. Roslyn edition (1913), from which all poetical quotations are cited in this chapter.

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