Introduction (Critical Survey of Poetry: Topical Essays)
In the nineteenth century, American families would gather around the fireside to listen as a family member read. Among the works selected were the poems of several American poets who had gained critical respectability and popularity that rivaled that of their British counterparts. The poems of these New England poets—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and William Cullen Bryant—were included in textbooks, and their portraits often adorned schoolroom walls. Therefore, this group is called Fireside or Schoolroom poets.
The Fireside poets shared several characteristics. From youth they displayed language skills. Although their families envisioned legal careers for them, they chose to become magazine editors and contributors, preachers, or college professors. Their interests were literature and education, which for them were closely related. Most wrote about American politics and New England landscapes. They publicly opposed slavery. Some, such as Longfellow, presented Native Americans sympathetically. Generally their poems were highly didactic, emphasizing conventional nineteenth century values: duty, honor, personal responsibility, and hard work. A staple of textbooks, these poems were memorized by generations of schoolchildren.
Several Fireside poets translated the classics, providing many students an introduction to classical mythology and Renaissance literature. These poets...
(The entire section is 3065 words.)
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