How might we compare the use of nature in the poetry of Freneau and Wheatley?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Although there are more differences between the poetry of Philip Freneau and that of Phyllis Wheatley, critics agree that both poets, in their creative ventures of the imagination and sense of the sublime--the redemptive forces of nature--, have been the precursors of the Romantics. In addition, both Freneau and Wheatley employ neoclassism in their poetic forms, although Wheatley more stringently.

In Wheatley's poems which allude to nature there is an emerging sensitivity that touches upon that displayed in Freneau's poems of nature. For instance, in her poem, "To a Lady on her remarkable Preservation in a Hurricane in North Carolina," Wheatley employs classical elements,

Methinks I hear the storm tumultuous roar,
And how stern Boreas with impetuous hand
Compell'd the Nereids to usurp the land

while at the same time evoking the Romantic awe of the power of nature, 

The billows rave, the wind's fierce tyrant roars,
And with his thund'ring terrors shakes the shores

Similarly, in his poem "On a Honey Bee," Freneau employs classical allusion (Bacchus) and writes of the formidability of nature: 

Does Bacchus tempting seem--....

Did storms harrass or foes perplex,
Did wasps or king-birds bring dismay--
...Or did you miss your way?--
A better seat you could not take
Than on the margin of this lake

According to Fiegelman (a critic), Wheatley has in her elegies a suggestion of sentimentality, and an emerging distrust of rationality that becomes more like faith in "an irresistible discourse of feelings." This sentimentality and, certainly her sensitivity, compare to feelings expressed by Freneau. For example, in "Hymn of the Morning," she writes,

See in the east, the illustrious king of day!
His rising radiance drives the shades away--
But oh! I feel his fervid beams too strong,...

In a similar fashion, in his poem "On a Honey Bee," Freneau has a discourse of feelings with a honey bee after its appearance:

Welcome!--I hail you to my glass [of wine]:
All welcome, here, you find;
Here let the cloud of trouble pass...

Do as you please, your will is mine;
Enjoy it without fear--

Possessive of a respect for nature, as well as a sensitivity and awe for the power of nature, both Phyllis Wheatley and Philip Freneau have written beautiful lyric poems that contain elements of imaginative power and pleasure in emotion, even though their treatment of emotion differs.

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