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The schoolroom poets were comprised of five men who engaged in romanticism poetry. The term is used when referring to the New England poets namely Wadsworth, Whittier, Holmes, Bryant, and James Russell. According to Angela Sorby, these writers defined the Northern liberal tastes beginning in the 1840s throughout the civil war. It was after the war ended that these poets, actually, became schoolroom poets (Sorby xi).
In this essay, I will show that natural fears such as sickness, war and death, nostalgia and the landscape played a big role in shaping the creativity and poetic juices of the schoolroom poets. With their most popular works already behind them, these poets ended up relegated to pedagogical haunts (Sorby xii).
According to Sorby, and looking at most of their earlier works, none of these poets started as a children’s poets, but they became the same during the second part of the 19th century. These poets were the first to rival the British poets in terms of popularity in both nations. Today, their poems may appear more Vvictorian in sensibility rather than romantic.
The poetry by these literary giants was derived from domestic lives, legends, and contemporary politics. These poets wrote less for personal introspection than for public performances. With time, they became essential components of the American culture during the period between World War 1 and civil war.
Works by Schoolroom Poets and their validity According to Angela Sorby’s analysis
Poems such as “My Lost Youth” by Wadsworth show that they preferred conventional poems when compared to experimentation. Their attention to rhyme and very strict metrical cadences ensured that their work became more popular for both recitation and memorization in both homes and classrooms. It aided them in expressing their fears, hopes, believes and aspirations.
Poems such as the one I have mentioned, is a tribute to the poet’s native home and to the boy who used to climb its hilly streets while gazing over its harbor carrying faraway dreams. The poem is made up of ten line stanzas with the refrain being the famous “A boys will…”. Poetry for children has been part of studies over centuries regarding the literature for children, though, a minor one.
Very little historical or critical work has been done in this ground especially as pertains to the United States children poetry hence making work by Sorby important in analyzing poems by these great poets (Sorby xiv). “My Lost Youth” by Wadsworth became one of the most popular poems of all times with children being asked to recite it both at home and in school. Some of the themes which were explored by these fireside poets were and still are controversial. For instance, “Thanatopsis” by Cullen Bryant is a great work of literature exploring the often controversial theme of death (Rubin 26). The poet has attempted to show the relationship which exists between the eternal questions on death and the cyclical nature of life. When the poem comes to an end, many readers either reaffirm their faith on existence of an afterlife while there are those who are left pondering aimlessly on this funny possibility.
Since one of the aims of schoolroom poets was to teach by making the reader to question and debate, this poem counts as one of the best pieces by schoolroom poets. Therefore, according to Bryant, death acts as that ultimate force uniting all the human beings. Other poems by these poets dealt with cruelty which was meted on the powerless slaves by their masters. In “The Farewell of a Virginia Slave Mother,”we encounter agony of a mother whose daughters have been sold into slavery (Rubin 32).
The heart rending events which are described in a simple flowing diction aids Whittier to enter the mind of a mother and succeeds in putting her thoughts into his words. This poem has parallels with the story of Ann Hanson whose story is contained in the introduction to Sorby’s work on fireside/schoolroom poets. The poem carries undertones of common practice during the romanticism period. During this period, people committed poems to memory until they became part of their daily lives and experiences. The fireside poets had turned poetry into common practice similar to a popular church hymn.
In the poem “A Jewish Cemetery in Newport,” we find Wadsworth speaking about the fate of Jewish minorities among the Christian majority (Nelson 52). The poet laments the fate of the Jewish synagogue which is abandoned and in the common Victorian Romantic musings speaks of the dead Hebrews. However, as Sorby argues, the periodization of poetry ought to be thought afresh. The rationale for my assumption is that after the holocaust this poem was more important when compared to the time of its publication.
Therefore, what should be important is a time when a work gained widespread acceptance, and not when it was published. Therefore, schoolroom poets brought to the fore all that it means to use poetry for educational purposes with all the discipline and desire which a good educational material can unleash. Other poems by the schoolroom poets deal with the dulling effect of beautiful yet unoccupied land. In the “Prairies,”Bryant speculates on an ancient race of people which inhabited these prairies but which have been replaced by the subsequent generations.
The transient nature of human beings comes to the fore in this poem when Bryant arrives at the conclusion that all races are only temporary occupants while the beautiful landscape is eternal. This poem can be categorized among those works of art whereby fantasy and memories can be used to recreate extinct or even imagined communities. In another poem by Bryant, “To a Waterfowl,”theme of the place of God in the lives of human beings is dealt with (Wagenknecht 90).
The poem shows that the same way that God guides migrating waterfowls to their summer homes; he also guides the speaker in the poem across life and onward to his ultimate destination. Thus, in true practice of romanticism of the schoolroom poets, every life across the universe is directed by God’s providence. The desire by the schoolroom poets to ensure that they did not play a second fiddle to their brothers and sisters in the old world is captured clearly in poem by Bryant to his best friend Thomas Cole.
In the poem, Bryant implores Cole not to be caught up by the English landscape, so that he forgets his own motherland. It is evident, especially in paintings touching on nature. It means that the American artists regardless of their varied disciplines were all keen to retain their cultural and environmental ties but not get lured by newer experiences in solicitation of acceptance.
Several institutions played a big role in exposing popular poems by schoolroom poets to mass readership. They included museums, theatres, newspapers, and magazines. Further, natural fears inherent in all human beings, religious beliefs, upbringing, and nature were pivotal in raising the stature of this crop of poets. Finally, I assume that with advent of new technologies and music, readership of poetry has been on the decline. As such, most children just read poetry when it is part of class work.
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