Although “The Wild Honey Suckle” is now the most frequently reprinted and quoted of Freneau’s poems, it was seldom reprinted in the poet’s lifetime. The consensus both in the United States and abroad is that this is the poet’s best lyric and is perhaps his most accomplished verse composition. It is a comparatively short poem: It has only four six-line stanzas of iambic tetrameter arranged in the quite traditional rhyme scheme ababcc. The first two stanzas sing of the joys of growing in the country (“this silent, dull retreat”), where no careless bypasser will threaten the flower’s gentle existence, its comeliness in the gentle shade of the woods. The poet stresses that this secluded location is “Nature’s” design: The shade is to guard the plant, which is to “shun the vulgar eye”; that is, it is personified and admonished to assume an attitude of modesty despite its beauty.

The third stanza develops the image introduced in the penultimate line of the second stanza, that “quietly the summer goes.” That is, an analogy is proposed between the life and death of the honeysuckle and the life and death of humankind; in both, one can see existence “declining to repose” (death). As if to place the death of the individual flower in perspective, Freneau suggests that even the flowers that bloomed in the Garden of Eden—which were no more beautiful than the native flower of the North American countryside—were killed off by...

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