Fireside Poets Analysis
The Romantic Period was exceedingly popular in literature. This popularity was mostly due to the Fireside Poets who wrote romantic poetry. The Fireside Poets were the first American poets who rivaled the British poets. As strange as it may sound for romantic poets, the Fireside Poets wrote poems that shared a common theme of death. Poems such as, “The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell, “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes all address the theme of death but in different ways.
In “The First Snowfall” by Lowell, death is seen in a mournful way which is what most would expect from a poem about death; however, “The First Snowfall” is the only poem by the Fireside Poets that has this mournful look upon death. In “The First Snowfall”, the persona is mournful about death because he is reminded of the death of his first daughter when he thinks of the mound where his daughter’s headstone is. In the fifth stanza, the persona states, “I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn / Where a little headstone stood” (Lowell 17-18) and he goes on to say in the seventh stanza, “Again I looked at the snow-fall, / And thought of the leaden sky / That arched o’er our first great sorrow” (Lowell 25-27). The persona is beginning to feel mournful about the death of his first daughter and he uses imagery to express that it felt like the sky was lead (which is very dark) when his daughter died. Even though the thought of the persona’s daughter makes him mournful, the persona believes that the snowfall has a healing affect.
In the eight stanza, the persona states, “That fell from that cloud like snow, / Flake by flake, healing and hiding / The scar that renewed our woe” (Lowell 30-32). The persona is basically saying that the snow heals the pain because he can imagine it covering the headstone which is his scar. Towards the end of the poem, I think Lowell tries to make a point about being strong even though you are mournful about death. In the final stanza the persona kisses his second daughter yet the kiss is for his first daughter. “The First Snowfall” shares the common theme of death yet it shows it in a significantly different way then the other poems do. Though “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” by Longfellow may sound like it is about the water in the ocean, it is actually about the progression of life and death.
In the first stanza, the reader is told about a traveler who tries to hurry into town and escape the tide; the reader later discovers that the traveler failed. In the final stanza of the poem, the narrator says, “The day returns, but nevermore / Returns the traveler to the shore” (Longfellow 3-4). The traveler is trying to race against the tide, which is a symbol of the progression of life, but he couldn’t out run it because no one can escape death. Looking back at the second stanza, the sea is being personified and the narrator states, “But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls: / The little waves, with their soft, white hands. / Efface the footprints in the sands” (Longfellow 12-14). When the narrator says the footprints are effaced, he is using it as a metaphor for people being forgotten after death.
Now back in the last stanza we saw that the traveler died but the narrator said, “The day returns, but nevermore” (Longfellow 3). The darkness, which was a symbol of death, is now gone because it is day time which is the symbol of life. “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” was uniquely different from the other poems in the way that it showed its theme of death. Just like the other poems, “Old Ironsides” by Holmes also has a special way of showing its theme of death by showing it in a patriotic way. “Old Ironsides” talks about the patriotic death of an old battle ship.
In the first couple of lines the speaker says, “AY, tear her tattered ensign down! / Long has it waved on high” (Holmes 1-2). The speaker says that the ensign on the ship has waved in the air for a long time so now it is time for them to destroy the ship. The speaker in “Old Ironsides” feels so strongly about the ship because the speaker and his crew accomplished many victories on the ship. The second stanza of “Old Ironsides” talks all about the victories of the ship, Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood, Where knelt the vanquished foe, When winds were hurrying o’er the flood And waves were white below, No more shall feel the victor’s tread, Or know the conquered knee;– The harpies of the shore shall pluck The eagle of the sea! (Holmes 9-16) The speaker calls the ship an eagle which is a well known bird among the top of the food chain. The speaker believes that the only fit way of the ship dying is to have God take her in a storm.
In the last stanza of “Old Ironsides” the speaker says, “And give her to the God of storms,– / The lightning of the gale!” (Holmes 23-24). A ship dying by a storm is the most patriotic way for it to die. “Old Ironsides” focuses on death like the other poems but in a patriotic way. To be brief, the Fireside Poets are romantic poets who sometimes detoured from the commonly accepted view of romanticism. “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” by Longfellow, “The First Snowfall” by Lowell, and “Old Ironsides” by Holmes all had a common theme of death yet their authors did not only write about death.
Something that can be learned from these poems is the fact that people think of death in many different ways. Some may look at a death as patriotic, some look at as a mournful thing, and some look at it as fate.