Walt Whitman – The Father of Free Verse, The Father of American Poetry

I usually attempt to remain unbais in my presentation of the authors, texts, events and ideas that we discuss in class – however, I cannot do so when it comes to Whitman. I love Walt Whitman. As we study his poetry in class I hope you can come to appreciate him as well – not just his style and the innovations that he brought to American poetry, but also for the message that his poetry contains.

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Walter “Walt” Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse. His work was very controversial in its time, particularly his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was described as obscene for its overt sexuality.

Click here to watch a brief background video over Whitman and his poetry.

In class we will be analyzing Whitman’s poem “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” and selection stanzas from “Song of Myself”. Please note, “Song of Myself” is essentially the American epic – almost 60 stanzas, so you will only be reading parts of it (though I encourage you to read it all on your own!).

Click here to access both poems.

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Whitman has the distinction of being one of the only American writer who, due to his long life publishing, is legitimately placed in two literary time periods – Transcendentalism and Realism. His early works, specifically Leaves of Grass, are obviously influenced by Emerson and the ideals of Transcendentalism, but as he aged and the politics of the Civil War took center stage in America, his style slowly changed and adapted to reflect the new literary tropes of the time. We will be reading early and later works of Whitman to help you observe the change in his style.

Additionally, there is a fantastic documentary by the PBS Program ‘The American Experience’ that devles into Whitman the poet in depth. For those of you that enjoy these poems or want to know more about Whitman in general, I would suggest watching it!

Click here for the American Experience documentary on Whitman.

 

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

Thoreau’s Walden

Henry_David_Thoreau_-_Dunshee_ambrotpe_1861Friend and follower of Emerson, Henry David Thoreau is probably the most well known and well read of all the Transcendentalist. His book, Walden  is a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings.The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self-reliance. First published in 1854, it details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts. The book compresses the time into a single calendar year and uses passages of four seasons to symbolize human development.

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The one room cabin Thoreau built himself and lived in on the shores of Walden Pond.

Although Thoreau is held today in great esteem, his work received far less attention during his lifetime, and a considerable number of his neighbors viewed him with contempt and the book found only marginal success during Thoreau’s lifetime. It was not until the twentieth century that Thoreau’s extraordinary impact on American culture was felt. In the upsurge in counterculture sentiment during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights era, Walden and “Civil Disobedience” inspired many young Americans to express their disavowal of official U.S. policies and declare ideological independence, even at the risk of arrest.

Click to watch a video that tours Walden Pond and Thoreau’s cabin by the woods.

Walden also expressed a critique of consumerism and capitalism that was attractive to the ‘hippies’ and others who preferred to drop out of the bustle of consumer society and pursue what they saw as greater and more personally meaningful aims. Moreover, Thoreau politicized the American landscape and nature itself, giving us a liberal view on the wilderness whose legacy can be felt the current environmentalism. He did not perceive nature as a dead and passive object of conquest and exploitation, as it was for many of the early pioneers for whom land meant survival. Rather, he saw in it a lively and vibrant world unto itself, a spectacle of change, growth, and constancy that could infuse us all with spiritual meaning if we pursued it.

The American poet Robert Frost wrote of Thoreau, “In one book … he surpasses everything we have had in America”, while John Greenleaf Whittier, a contemporary of Thoreau, criticized what he perceived as the message in Walden that man should lower himself to the level of a woodchuck and walk on four legs. He said: “Thoreau’sWalden is a capital reading, but very wicked and heathenish… After all, for me, I prefer walking on two legs”.

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Thoreau’s original journals from his time at Walden Pond.

As you read through the excerpts of Walden this weekend, be sure to look for examples of Thoreau’ main themes – simplicity, self-reliance and ‘progress’ (think about our discussions during Expansionism for this one!). Also, you will need to be able to discuss how Thoreau is at once a student of Emerson, and also how he interprets Emerson’s Transcendental ideals in a new light, or how he contributes new ideals to Transcendentalism.

Click here to watch an overview of Thoreau’s Walden

Click here to read our excerpt from class, ‘Where I lived and what I lived for”

Click here to read an excerpt from Civil Disobedience.

Near Concord, Massachusetts --- Autumn Trees at Walden Pond --- Image by © Mick Roessler/Corbis

Near Concord, Massachusetts — Autumn Trees at Walden Pond —

We will have Socratic Seminar on Monday – and you will be writing a substantial essay over Emerson and Thoreau on Tuesday! Come prepared! I re-read all of Walden each summer you guys, so you’re really going to have to ‘bring it’ Monday…. I have high expectations of you next week! 🙂

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

Emerson – The Father of Transcendenalism

ralph_waldo_emersonIn class today we began our study of the Transcendentalist – a group of close knit free-thinkers and non-conformist, largely from Massachusetts, that changed the future of American Literature. Please see the video below for the background notes on Transcendentalism, as well as background information on Emerson.

In class we are reading a series of texts by Emerson – you will either be responsible for reading excerpts of ‘Nature’, and determining how we see the ideals of Romanticism present in that text; ‘Self-Reliance’, and brainstorm an ‘Emerson’s Guide to Self-Reliant Living’ pamphlet; or his tenth essay, ‘Circles’, and complete an indepth analysis of the extended metaphor of the circle and how Emerson connects the ideas of Nature, The Individual, Society, and God/Spirituality.

Please click below to access copies of the essay from class.

Click here to access ‘Nature’

and here to access ‘Self-Reliance’.

Click here to access ‘Circles’.

See below for images from our notes and discussion in class:

Nature:

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Circles:

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11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

The Early Romantics – The Fireside Poets

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Until the third decade of the 19th century, America had little literature to call its own. Fireside poets represented a “coming of age” for the young country, as a first generation of poets took their name from the popularity of their works which were widely read as family entertainment (and in the schoolroom). These poets chose uniquely American settings and subjects, but their themes, meter, and imagery, however, were borrowed from  English tradition. Though not innovative, they were literary giants of their day, and by examining their poems for images of American daily life, politics and nature we can see the beginnings of the Romantic writings that follow.

 

You will be examining the poetry of two fireside poets – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William Cullen Bryant.

 

The Mount of the Holy Cross – Colorado

Longfellow is by far the most famous of the Fireside Poets. No other American poet, not even Robert Frost, has matched Longfellow’s popularity at the height of his career. A bust of Longfellow was placed in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey (alongside Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. Longfellow was a classmate of Nathaniel Hawthorn. He believed his task was to create in memorable form a common heritage for Americans and in the process to create an audience for poetry.

 

Picture1You should remember Bryant from our unit over Expansionism in American Literature, as we read his news article ‘On the Right to Strike’. The fame he won as a poet while in his youth remained with him as he entered his eighties; only Longfellow and Emerson were his rivals in popularity over the course of his life. “Thanatopsis,” if not the best-known American poem abroad before the mid nineteenth century, certainly ranked near the top of the list, and at home school children were commonly required to recite it from memory. At his death, all New York City went into mourning for its most respected citizen.

 

 

Below you will find the link to both of Longfellow’s short poems you will be analyzing – “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” and “The Cross of Snow”, as well as Bryant’s poem “The Chambered Nautilus”. You need to not only analyze the poem in depth, but be sure to make connections between the content of these poems and the ideals of the Romantic/Transcendental writers we will be reading later.

Click here to access the poems in case you lost your hardcopy from class.

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

American Romanticism

The “Romantic Period” refers to literary and cultural movements in England, Europe, and America roughly from 1770 to 1860.  Romantic writers (and artists) saw themselves as revolting against the “Age of Reason” (1700-1770) and its values.  They celebrated imagination/intuition versus reason/calculation, spontaneity versus control, subjectivity and metaphysical musing versus objective fact, revolutionary energy versus tradition, individualism versus social conformity, democracy versus monarchy, and so on.

Other elements that influenced the writing of the Romantic period was that the frontier promised opportunity for expansion, growth, freedom (which Europe lacked as it had nothing new to ‘discover’); the spirit of optimism invoked by the promise of an uncharted frontier; the new cultures and perspectives brought in by immigration; the polarization of the industrial north and agrarian south;
and the growth of secularism that had begun in the Puritan Era, and now resulted in Americans looking for new spiritual roots.

As we have discussed in class multiple times, it is very hard to define literary movements are draw a clear line between when this literary era began and ended and when another starts. This is very true for the Romantic period.  Early writers in the Romantic periods are often identified as The Fireside Poets -the first group of American poets to rival British poets in popularity in either country. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier,Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and William Cullen Bryant are the poets most commonly grouped together as the ‘Fireside Poets’. Their strict focus on form and meter make their writer seem very British and Victorian when contrasted with later Romantics, but the content of their poetry usually focuses on uniquely American images (images of nature or the frontier,American home life and contemporary politics ). In general, these poets preferred conventional forms over experimentation, and this attention to rhyme and strict metrical cadences made their work popular for memorization and recitation in classrooms and homes. At the peak of his career, Longfellow’s popularity rivaled Lord Alfred Tennyson’s in England as well as in America, and he was a noted translator and scholar in several languages—in fact, he was the first American poet to be honored with a bust in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.

Emerson and Thoreau, along with Margaret Fuller, are a part of a literary/philosophical/theological movement known as “Transcendentalism” (they had their own literary magazine, The Dial, which Fuller edited).  They privileged imagination and wanted to resuscitate spiritual values in a era in which institutional religion dominated (or so they felt).  According to them, we are, if we only knew it, Gods in ruin, with the power to regain our spiritual birthright by attending to the divine within. Walt Whitman is also a Transcendental writer, and heavily influenced by Emerson – however, his unique style separates him from other Transcendental writers. As the longest living Romantic writer, Whitman published well into the 1880’s, and later in life readers can see a definite shift in his writings that reflect the work of other Realist (the period after Romanticism)

Dickinson, Melville, Hawthorne and Poe however, were not Transcendentalists, and often (implicitly or explicitly) critique Emersonian idealism. Melville, Hawthorne and Poe are often categorized as ‘Dark Romantics’. Dark Romantics are much less confident about the notion perfection is an innate quality of mankind, as believed by Transcendentalists. They believe that individuals are prone to sin and self-destruction, not as inherently possessing divinity and wisdom. Secondly, while both groups believe nature is a deeply spiritual force, Dark Romanticism views it in a much more sinister light than does Transcendentalism, which sees nature as a divine. For these Dark Romantics, the natural world is dark, decaying, and mysterious; when it does reveal truth to man, its revelations are evil and hellish. Finally, whereas Transcendentalists advocate social reform when appropriate, works of Dark Romanticism frequently show individuals failing in their attempts to make changes for the better.

If all of this sounds really confusing, as all of these periods and genres seems to be overlapping and happening simultaneously, hopefully this graphic will help:

Romanticism Bubbles

Make sure you have a clear understanding of Romanticism and its various sub-genres before we return from fall break! For all of my audio/visual kids out there, please click the link below to watch a short video that covers the Romantic period!

Click here to watch the notes over Romanticism!

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

Andrew Jackson – On Indian Removal

As we examine the effects of manifest destiny on the American identity, we must also remember to pay attention to how westward expansion and the resulting idea of ‘America’ affected the country’s native inhabitants.
Since the beginning of the course we have examined the representations of the Native Americans in early American texts and literature. As we approach the end of American westward expansion and enter into the Romantic period of American literature, it is important to examine multiple perspectives surrounding the Indian Removal Act and Trail of Tears to have a richer understanding of this important event and the rhetoric surrounding it.

 

Below you will find a the link to our reading materials for this assignment – 11 different documents over the removal of the Native Americas of the southeast by the Indian Removal Act. The documents include:

  • jackson-meme-rulesThe Cherokee Constitution of 1827
  • A first person account from a Cherokee tribesman on the success of the ‘civilizing’ project among the Cherokee
  • Andrew Jackson’s Second State of the Union Address
  • “To the Cherokee Tribe of Indians”, from Andrew Jackson
  • The memorial of a delegation of the Cherokee Nation of Indians
  • A petition by ladies of Steubenville, OH, against Indian removal
  • A memorial and protest of the Cherokee Nation
  • John Burnett’s Story of The Trail of Tears
  • Letter from Chief John Ross defending the Cherokee’s right to their land
  • Letter to the Cherokee’s from Major General Scott

 

As you read these documents, be sure to analyze the use of rhetoric and pay attention to the author’s choices in regards to diction and syntax. You will need to complete SOAPSTone Plus analysis for the documents and a series of constructed responses that cite textual evidence.

 

Click here to access the documents.

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

The Expedition of Lewis and Clarke – Synthesizing Multiple Perspectives

As we examining the Era of Expansionism, it would be impossible to skip the contributions of the thousands of pages of information supplied by the expedition of Lewis and Clarke. Recording daily notations on the flora and fauna of the west, as well as the Native inhabitants, weather patterns, natural resources and maps charting the terrain, the team members of the expedition provided the young America with valuable 1st person accounts of the new frontier into which we wished to expand.

As you read through the journal salmonlcentries that appear in your text, and in the attached document below, you will see the contribution of not just Lewis and Clarke, but also expedition members Floyd, Gass, Ordway, and Whitehouse. As you read through these be sure to consider the questions below, as we will discuss them in class:

  • Which writer provides the most descriptive account vs. the most factual account?
  • Why is it important for modern reader to analyze all the accounts from each given writer for each day?
  • How should a modern reader synthesize this information to create a more complete understanding of their journey?
  • Even after synthesis, is our understanding of the journey still affected by historical bias?

**A Note About Spelling In The Attachment (from 144613-004-50D3A138the source, unl.edu)
The spelling and capitalization of Lewis, Clark, and other members of the expedition have been retained as nearly as possible, but some conventionalizing has been necessary. Uncrossed t’s and undotted i’s and the like have been silently corrected. Misspelled words have been corrected in brackets when necessary for clarity. When letters or words defy comprehension, conjectural readings have been given in brackets with a question mark signifying the editor’s uncertainty. With ambiguous spelling, the journalist’s typical spelling has been taken as a guide, or the modern spelling has been adopted in disputed cases. With Clark that is nearly impossible. One researcher discovered that Clark spelled the word Sioux “no less than twenty-seven different ways.” Little can be promised in the way of consistency, for no rule can stand against Clark’s inimitable style.

Click here for the handout of the expedition letters not included in your textbook.


11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017