Throughout their work, these poets engaged with themes of morality, nature, love, and other easy to relate to and near-universal themes that many readers enjoyed. Fireside poets are well known for utilizing conventional poetic forms, rhyme schemes, and more. The fireside poets declined in popularity in the early 1900s.
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Fireside Poets Definition
The term “fireside poets” was given to a group of male American writers working in the 19th century. These writers utilized traditional poetic conventions, like standardized rhyme schemes and metrical patterns. They also wrote on themes that the vast majority of the public could relate to. It’s for these reasons that the group has also been known as the “household poets” or the “schoolroom poets.”
Their work was easily accessible and easy to read. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is generally considered to be one of the most important writers of his age. He is also the most popular of the fireside poets.
Characteristics of Fireside Poetry
- Easy to read
- Relatable themes
- Use of rhyme schemes
- Use of metrical patterns
- Use of standard poetic forms.
- Interested in themes of domestic life, mythology, and US politics.
- Composed many narrative poems.
Who Were the Fireside Poets?
There are a few poets who are commonly associated with this title. They include:
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- William Cullen Bryant
- Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
- John Greenleaf Whittier
- James Russel Lowell
Additionally, sometimes Ralph Waldo Emerson is included in the group. These authors are commonly considered to be the first American writers who rivaled the popularity of their contemporaries in Great Britain. This included Lord Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning.
Examples of Fireside Poetry
The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It’s for this long poem that Longfellow is best-known. The piece includes Native American characters and is written in trochaic tetrameter. The main character is an Ojibwe warrior named Hiawatha, and the poem is set in an area on the south shore of Lake Superior. It begins:
Should you ask me, whence these stories?
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant
‘Thanatopsis’ was written around 1813 when Bryant was only nineteen years old. It remained his best-known piece of poetry throughout his life. It is often cited for its beautiful and memorable depiction of death. Bryant describes how one should accept the inevitability of its coming and therefore live peacefully. Here is a quote:
To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. […]
Explore other William Cullen Bryant poems.
Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia, 1862 by John Greenleaf Whittier
This well-known poem is concerned with the abolition of slavery. Within the text, the poem speaks to the future, hope, and the power of God. Throughout, Christian undertones come through, as does the poet’s support of the abolition of enslaved people within the United States. Here is a quote:
When first I saw our banner wave
Above the nation’s council-hall,
I heard beneath its marble wall
The clanking fetters of the slave!
He believes that God will provide justice for the oppressed in the future and that the wrong is done by men is never ignored by this higher power.
Read more John Greenleaf Whittier poems.
This nature poem describes the hooting of the great black owl. It taps on the themes of silence and darkness. The speaker describes the noises the owl makes and how one can hear them emanating out of the leaden, or black, darkness. This owl feels otherworldly in its presence, something that Longfellow only hints at. The poem ends:
The great black
Hi! a! haa!
Read more Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poems.
The five fireside poets were: William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell. These authors were incredibly popular, especially by American standards, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
They are best known for their long, narrative poems, traditional poetic forms, rhyme schemes, and use of familiar themes. These include everyday, domestic life, morality, God, nature, and more.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the fireside poets, including William Cullen Bryant and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, were the first poets to rival their British contemporaries in popularity.
Related Literary Terms
- Romanticism: a movement that originated in Europe at the end of the 18th century and emphasized aesthetic experience and imagination.
- Dark Romanticism: a subgenre of the important literary movement— Romanticism. It includes works of a more grotesque nature.
- Dadaism: an art and literary movement in Europe during the 20th century. It was a reaction to the senselessness of war during the early 1900s.
- Aestheticism: a literary and artistic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries that focused on the importance of beauty.
- Dirty Realism: a literary movement of the 20th century in North America. The movement’s authors use concise language and clear descriptions of the darkest parts of reality.
- Futurism: an avant-garde movement that originated in Italy in the 20th century. It was part of the broader Futurist art movement.
- Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
- Read: The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- Watch: Introduction to the Fireside Poets
- Watch: The Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow