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Theme Contrast between Fireside Poets and Whitman

ThemeContrast between Fireside Poets and Whitman

Firesidepoets included Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes, and Greenleaf. Their poemsare G-rated since they were all suitable for both adults andchildren. During this time, many American families would gatheraround the fireside and to listen as a family member read the poems.The act of sitting around the fireside made the above poets’ becomepopularly known as Fireside poets. The fireside poets were alltraditionalists who followed Victorian poem rules by paying attentionto rhyme schemes, meter, among others. In addition, their workrevolved around family. The poets were romantic, who appealed totheir audience since their poems were easy to memorize. Whitman, onthe other side, ignored reader appeal. His imaginative works focusedmore on his sexuality and other personal issues. The aim of thispaper is to show the differences existing between fireside poets’themes and those utilized by Whitman.

Thefireside poets focused more on the common people than they did intheir personal life like Whitman. The poets aimed for their storiesto be told for families. Many American families adopted the poems andcould gather around to listen to them. An example of such work isOliver Wendell Holmes’ ‘Breakfast Table.’ (Holmes 20-22) Otherpeople refer to this period as the Romanticism period in poetry. Thepoets aimed at showing the values of family, love, and heroism. Inthe poem ‘A Psalm of Life,’ Longfellow shows the theme of loveand heroism by illustrating how people should take death. Heencourages people to remember death for us to better ourselves. Headvocates for people to live in the right way and as a family. Hestates “Life is real! Life is earnest” (Longfellow 5). He insiststhat people live in love, enjoy it to the fullest, and be a hero(20). According to him, people need to be leaders not followers, andby doing so, they will end up as life heroes. In similar sentimentsof romanticism and heroism, Lowell in his poem ‘The Vision of SirLaunfa’ states in his preface that, “……I have enlarged thecircle of competition in search of miraculous cup in such a manner asto include, not only other persons that the heroes of the RoundTable” (Lowell 10-20). The statement is a show that Lowellacknowledges heroism as he wants to be associated with the societyheroes. John Greenleaf Whittier also talks of heroism especiallyduring the time of slavery and colonialism. He even has a poem by thetitle, ‘The Hero.` In this poem, he illustrates Greek`s strugglefor independence. Some of the poem lines read, &quotKnight likeBayard….My love-knot on his spear…lion heart in battle.&quot Thelines show heroic words, describing a young man fighting for hiscountry (Whittier15).Longfellow also focuses more on native legends, especially inEuropean meters. He popularized the legend with three poems,‘Evangeline,` ‘The Song of Hiawatha,` and ‘The Courtship ofMiles Standish` in 1847, 1855, and 1858 respectively. The firesidepoets’ work as above described, mainly revolve around the 19thcentury. Their works seem to be against many issues that wereunethical in the societies such as individualism. They stressed onthe need to acknowledge the common people in the society.

Whitman’sthemes were different from that of Fireside Poets. Unlike thefireside poets who focused on the common person, Whitman focused onhimself. His whole work was on praising an individual. He evenimagines of a democratic nation full of unique but equal individuals.An example of Whitman praising himself is evident in his work ‘Songof Myself’. He opens up by saying “I celebrate myself, and singmyself.” (Whitman 1) In another illustration, a speaker ofWhitman’s poem claims that through him many voices will speak.Self-celebration is evident in all his work as he draws all readersto see him as the model American man. His works illustrate thecollective role of an individual in a society and put emphases on theneed of self-expression. Further, as many fireside calls forliberation, Whiteman sees the fight as useless. In addition, his workcoincided with the civil war. His explanations are different fromthose of Fireside Poets. According to Whitman, physical conflictleads to loss of humanity. He seemed to discourage liberation wars,but Fireside poems emphasize of people liberating themselves fromslavery and colonialism.

Theabove explanations put into perspective two poetry eras in America.First is the era of poets such as Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes, andGreenleaf who fall under the name fireside poets. They reason thename ‘Fireside’ came up was because their poems were relevant tofamilies who could read them while seated around the fireside. Thepoets wrote their work during the time of slavery movement. Peopleread the poems to put their minds at peace and ease. The main themesof these poems were mainly on common person. They involved theimportance of family or home, slavery, love, and heroism. The Whitmanera seemed to change from the traditional way of Fireside Poets orVictorian rules of writing. He did not concentrate on the rhymeschemes or meters. His aim was to praise himself for people to seehim as the model American man. Many of his poems createdcontroversies, making them unsuitable for a general audience, hencemaking them X-rated.


Holmes,Oliver Wendell.&nbspThePoet at the Breakfast-table.Vol. 3. Houghton, Mifflin, 1892.

Longfellow,Henry Wadsworth.&nbspThePoetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.Routledge, 1887.

Lowell,James Russell.&nbspThecomplete poetical works of James Russell Lowell.Houghton Mifflin Co., 1896.

Whitman,Walt, Harold William Blodgett, and Sculley Bradley.&nbspLeavesof grass: Edited by Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley.Norton, 1968.

Whittier,John Greenleaf.&nbspJohnGreenleaf Whittier`S Poetry.University of Minesota Press, 1971.