William Cullen Bryant was born on November 3, 1794, in Cummington, Massachusetts, to Peter Bryant and Sarah Snell Bryant. The poet enjoyed a close family life and, from an early age, benefited from the positive influences of both parents, as well as from those of his maternal grandfather, Ebenezer Snell. The latter’s Calvinist influence, though muted, is evident in the language of the poetry and in the recurrent image of an angry God threatening retribution for humankind’s sins. His mother’s gentler religious influence bore directly on his precocity as a reader in general, and of the Bible in particular, at the age of four. Bryant was later to remember those conducting the religious services of his very early childhood experiences as “often poets in their extemporaneous prayers.”
A counter, and as time passed more prevailing, influence was that of his liberal physician father, Peter Bryant, who encouraged the poet in his early experiments with satires, lampoons, and pastorals. Under that encouraging tutelage, Bryant published his first poem of substance, “The Embargo,” in 1808, at the age of thirteen; three years later, he set about translating the third book of the Aeneid. In 1817, Peter Bryant took copies of several of his son’s poems to his friend Willard Phillips, one of the editors of the North American Review. “Thanatopsis” and one other poem were published immediately in the journal’s September issue....
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