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Nature in American Literature

Of the many insights, American literature offers, most resounding remain the shared lessons of Freneau, Bryant and Emerson’s poetry. Their verses arrived as Americans began their search for national and individual identities, providing personal creation and growth, and their ideas and courage nurtured thoroughly American morals and virtues still held in high esteem. Freneau’s “The Wild Honey Suckle” and “Indian Burying Ground”, Bryant’s “To a Waterfowl” and “The Prairies”, and Emerson’s “Give All to Love”, “Each and All”, and “Hamatreya” depict spiritual journeys that culminate in revelations concerning the following themes: human folly in believing nature may be owned and controlled; divine guidance discerned in nature.

The logic that humans control or own nature is redefined in the writing of Emerson. In “Hamatreya”, Emerson details how individuals believe they own and control the earth and her resources. He then challenges this notion as he writes from the point of view of the Earth in a section of “Hamatreya” called the “Earth-Song.

” At the beginning of his poem, Emerson describes how six farmers perceive that the land they farm is rightly their own. The poem says, “Tis mine, my children’s and my name’s” (Emerson “Hamatreya”). Every sentence of the first stanza details of how these farmers are in control of the land. For example, at the end of three different lines in the first stanza, he writes, “walked amidst his farm”, how sweet the west wind sounds in my own trees, or how graceful climb those shadows on my hill”(Emerson “Hamatreya”).

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A human belief that they own the Earth and that the Earth should be subservient to them is challenged by Emerson in the second stanza. In the second stanza, he explains that while an may be proud of the Earth or “Earth-proud”, they are proud of something that they do not own (Emerson “Hamatreya”). Rather the Earth owns them, as Emerson explains that humans cannot hold the Earth, but Earth holds humans. From the point of view of the Earth, “they called me theirs, who so controlled me; yet every one wished to stay, and is gone, how am I theirs, if they cannot hold me, but I hold them?” (Emerson “Hamatreya”). Humans take and abuse the Earth in thinking its theirs, but rather the Earth owns them. The Earth will be here when they die, and will actually hold them in their grave. This challenges the popular opinion that humankind has had throughout its history. The rebuttal of the Earth-Song led the men to believe that they were no longer brave, as they became fearful of the grave and lost their conceited attitude. “When I heard the Earth-song I was no longer brave; my avarice cooled like lust in the chill of the grave” (Emerson “Hamatreya”).

Unlike Emerson’s “Hamatreya”, his poem “Give All to Love,” portrays a different example of how nature effects humankind. In “Hamatreya”, the Earth establishes her right and inability to be controlled by humankind, and puts forth the truth that the Earth has control. Nature in “Give All to Love”, is mentioned in part of the explanation of how humans need to experience emotions and feelings in a way that is controlled by love. The human experience with nature is the opposite in these two poems. In “Give All to Love”, Emerson explains that the reader or humankind, should give all to love and obey the feelings of their heart.” Give all to love; obey thy heart; friends, kindred, days, estate, good-fame, plans, credit and the Muse, nothing refuse”(Emerson “Give All to Love” ). In the second stanza, Emerson explains why you should love such things as friends or estate being nature. He explains that love is the guiding force of the human experience. Love has control over individuals’ lives as it influences how individuals perceive the world as well as how the world perceives humankind. Emerson also notes that love is an authority type figure who determines an individual’s path. “But it is a god, knows its own path and the outlets of the sky” (Emerson “Give All to Love”). The end of “Give All to Love’, reaffirms the purpose of the first stanza. Emerson details how important it is to love each other and the world around us, and how the temporary authority or god, love assists humankind in life until individuals are dead and united with God. “Heartily know, When half-gods go, the gods arrive” (Emerson “Give All to Love”). The divine guidance present in this poem is distinguishable as a result of love.

Emerson’s poem “Each and All,”contains a similar message to the one given from “Give All to Love”. “Each and All” similar to both poems observed above, speaks about the interaction and relationship humankind has with nature. In the previous poems examined in this essay, Emerson has explained that both nature and love make up the human experience, “Each and All” explains how humans can enjoy nature and provides a detailed example. “I inhaled the violet’s breath; around me stood the oaks and firs; pine-cones and acorns lay on the ground; over me soared the eternal sky, full of light and deity; again I saw again I heard, the rolling river, the morning bird; beauty through my senses stole; I yielded myself to the perfect whole” (Emerson 628). This interaction described as “the perfect whole”, can be used as an example of how human should treat each other in relationships and interactions.

In “The Wild Honeysuckle”, Freneau personifies nature to compare it to human existence. He explains how a flower goes through stages in life similar to a human as it also experiences life and death. The flower experiences new things as it grows similar to how a human will experience new things as they mature and become involved in the world. “From morning suns and evening dews at first thy being came: If nothing once, you nothing lose, for when you die you are the same; the space between, is but an hour, The frail duration of a flower” (Freneau 418). The personification and comparison of the experience of a flower to humankind demonstrate that humans can receive divine influence from the world around them.

Philip Freneau’s “The Indian Burying Ground”, examines how Native Americans bury their dead and demonstrates the people connection and closeness to nature. Native Americans bury their deceased differently than the person who is narrating the poem. The Native Americans are buried sitting up, decorated with depictions of nature and is able to enjoy the company of his friends. “In spite of all the learned have said, I still my old opinion keep; the posture, that we give the dead, points out the soul’s eternal sleep. Not so the ancients of these lands, the Indian, when from life is released, again is seated with his friends, and shares again the joyous feast” (Freneau 418). The Native Americans share an interaction with nature in a way that the narrator does not. This interaction with nature allows a better experience of life and death as both can be joyous in connection with nature.

William Cullen Bryant’s “ To a Waterfowl”, uses nature as a mechanism for guidance. In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker is asking a waterfowl where it is going. Upon examination, the waterfowl is floating around pathless but is not wandering. The speaker also notes that the waterfowl flies when it could remain on the land. The idea that the waterfowl is moving forward through a “power” gives the speaker encouragement in his own situation. “There is a power whose care teaches thy way along that pathless coast, the desert and illimitable air, lone wandering, but not lost” (Bryant 540). This gained encouragement is portrayed in the last stanza. “He, who, from zone to zone, guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, in the long way that I must tread alone, will lead my steps aright” (Bryant 540). This poem similar to other poems examined already in this essay use nature as a guide or a template for the relationship, or lifestyles humans should attempt to achieve.

In Bryant’s poem “The Prairies”, he compares how humans and nature are moving westward. Bryant details many animals of nature moving westward in the same way that both the Native Americans and white settlers were. The movement westward is hypothetically beneficial to every creature that makes the journey. “Myriads of insects, gaudy as the flowers they flutter over, gentle quadrupeds, and birds, that scarce have learned the fear of man and here, and sliding reptiles of the ground, startling beautiful”(Bryant 543). Humankind and nature can coexist and be mutually beneficial to each other. “The Prairies” is an example of human follies in connection to nature.

Throughout the works of all the writers mentioned in this essay, the human experience is intertwined with nature. Nature can provide guidance, or be personified as a template for the way humans can also pursue their life. Humankind has no control over nature, but can use the teaching nature has provided to improve individual lives. An examination into the physics of nature can provide reassurance as everything will grow and undergo experiences and ultimately share the same fate.

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Nature in American Literature. (2020, Sep 28). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/nature-in-american-literature-essay

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