The Best Works from the “Fireside Poets”. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whitter, and James Russell Lowell. “Paul Revere's Ride,” “The Song of Hiawatha,” “Old Ironsides,” “The Chambered Nautilus,” “The First Snowfall”. Why the name “Fireside Poets”?.
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The Best Works from the “Fireside Poets” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whitter, and James Russell Lowell “Paul Revere's Ride,” “The Song of Hiawatha,” “Old Ironsides,” “The Chambered Nautilus,” “The First Snowfall”
Why the name “Fireside Poets”? • Until the third decade of the 19th century, America had little literature to call its own • Fireside poets represented a “coming of age” for the young country • First generation of poets took their name from the popularity of their works which were widely read as family entertainment (and in the schoolroom) • Four poets chose uniquely American settings and subjects • Themes, meter, and imagery, however, were borrowed from English tradition • Though not innovative, they were literary giants of their day
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow • No other American poet, not even Robert Frost, has matched Longfellow’s popularity at the height of his career. • A bust of Longfellow was placed in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey (alongside Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton) • Longfellow was a classmate of Nathaniel Hawthorne • He believed his task was to create in memorable form a common heritage for Americans and in the process to create an audience for poetry
Longfellow’s Travels and His Poetry • Sophisticated man – travels took him through France, Italy, Spain, Germany • Influence on travel has been monumental in regions of America where he sets his poems • For example, tourism in Boston brought to life almost entirely through evocative words of “Paul Revere’s Ride”: Listen my children, and you shall hear Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere . . .
Listen my children and you shall hearOf the midnight ride of Paul Revere,On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;Hardly a man is now aliveWho remembers that famous day and year. He said to his friend, "If the British marchBy land or sea from the town to-night,Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry archOf the North Church tower as a signal light,--One if by land, and two if by sea;And I on the opposite shore will be,Ready to ride and spread the alarmThrough every Middlesex village and farm,For the country folk to be up and to arm."
“The Song of Hiawatha” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
On the Mountains of the Prairie, On the great Red Pipe-stone Quarry, Gitche Manito, the mighty, He the Master of Life, descending, On the red crags of the quarry Stood erect, and called the nations, Called the tribes of men together. From his footprints flowed a river, Leaped into the light of morning, O'er the precipice plunging downward Gleamed like Ishkoodah, the comet. And the Spirit, stooping earthward, With his finger on the meadow Traced a winding pathway for it, Saying to it, "Run in this way!"
“Old Ironsides” Oliver Wendell Holmes
Story Behind the Poem In a battle in the War of 1812, the American frigate Constitution routed the British Guerriere and suffered so little damage that it became known as “Old Ironsides.” However, in 1830, the ship, lying untended in a Boston navy yard, was called unseaworthy, and plans were made for its demolition. Holmes wrote the following poem as a protest against the destruction of the ship. First published in the Boston Daily Advertiser, it was copied in newspapers and scattered on broadsides all over the country. Such indignation was aroused that the ship was preserved as a national memorial. Holmes was then twenty-one, and the poem made him famous virtually overnight.
Lines to Consider: “Ay, tear her tattered ensign down! Long has it waved on high, And many an eye has danced to see That banner in the sky; Beneath it rung the battle shout, And burst the cannon's roar; -- The meteor of the ocean air Shall sweep the clouds no more.”
“Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,Where knelt the vanquished foe,When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,And waves were white below,No more shall feel the victor's tread,Or know the conquered knee;--The harpies of the shore shall pluckThe eagle of the sea!”
“Oh, better that her shattered bulkShould sink beneath the wave;Her thunders shook the mighty deep,And there should be her grave;Nail to the mast her holy flag,Set every threadbare sail,And give her to the god of storms,The lightning and the gale!”
Questions to Consider • Why compare “Old Ironsides” to a meteor? A meteor has a brief, brilliant glory and then disappears. The Constitution seemed headed for a similar fate. • Why compare “Old Ironsides” to an eagle? The bald eagle is a symbol for America and suggests country and patriotism. Also, it fits the sky images.
More Questions to Consider • What words and images in the poem connect “Old Ironsides” with something larger and more awesome than an ordinary battleship? • Why did Holmes suggest that the government “tear her ensign down” and “give [Old Ironsides] to the god of storms”? • Instead of scrapping the ship, what alternative does Holmes propose?
Where is “Old Ironsides” today?Answer the question for 5 points by next class.
“The Chambered Nautilus” Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Story of the Chambered Nautilus • The rare and remarkable chambered nautilus has long captivated scientists, mathematicians, and poets. Reproducing itself in perfect symmetry and accuracy, the nautilus depends on each component to complement its self-contained system. Yet, it remains open-ended for perpetual evolution and change.
Opening lines to consider: “This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,Sail the unshadowed main,--The venturous bark that flingsOn the sweet summer wind its purpled wingsIn gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,And coral reefs lie bare,Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.”
“Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;Wrecked is the ship of pearl!And every chambered cell,Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,Before thee lies revealed,--Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!”
“Year after year beheld the silent toilThat spread his lustrous coil;Still, as the spiral grew,He left the past year's dwelling for the new,Stole with soft step its shining archway through,Built up its idle door,Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.”
“Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,Child of the wandering sea,Cast from her lap, forlorn!From thy dead lips a clearer note is bornThan ever Triton blew from wreathed horn;While on mine ear it rings,Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:--”
And the closing lines. . . “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,As the swift seasons roll!Leave thy low-vaulted past!Let each new temple, nobler than the last,Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,Till thou at length art free,Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!”
Questions to Consider • How does the speaker interpret the shell’s “heavenly message”? • According to Holmes, exactly how and when does the soul become free?
“The First Snowfall” James Russell Lowell
The First Snowfallby James Russell Lowell The snow had begun in the gloaming, And busily all the night Had been heaping field and highway With a silence deep and white. Every pine and fir and hemlock Wore ermine too dear for an earl, And the poorest twig on the elm-tree Was ridged inch deep with pearl. From sheds new-roofed with Carrara Came Chanticleer's muffled crow, The stiff rails were softened to swan's-down, And still fluttered down the snow. I stood and watched by the window The noiseless work of the sky, And the sudden flurries of snow-birds, Like brown leaves whirling by.