Phillip Freneau, poems, late 1700s
Notable for being:
- the “Poet of the American Revolution.”
- a proto-Romantic.
- an originator of the Gothic genre in poetry.
Phillip Freneau’s epithet, Poet of the American Revolution, makes him sound more exciting than he is. I think he is more notable for what he wrote about than how well he wrote. He published anti-British poems, which was a big deal at the time, but they don’t hold much interest now as Americans no longer need to be persuaded against being a British colony. I’ll tell you about a few of his poems.
The Wild Honey Suckle is your typical Romantic “flowers are pretty, life is fleeting” type of poem.
The Indian Burying Ground romanticizes the Native American method of burying the dead in a seated rather than reclining position. Freneau is for it, because instead of sending the dead off to eternal rest, one sends them to sit among their friends. I don’t know. It’s tough to relate to the 18th century attitude toward Native Americans. I’m not a fan.
The House of Night is my favorite of the Freneau pieces that I read, but I don’t love it. The poem consists of 136 quatrains with an ABCB rhyme scheme. The narrator relates the tale of a spooky adventure that befell him when he was out walking one night. He wanders into a garden and then into a house where Death himself lays dying. Our narrator speaks with Death for a while, who fears his approaching demise as he is worried that he won’t get into heaven. Really. The poem ends with a description of Death’s funeral and all the spooks that attend. It’s not the best poem I have ever read in terms of style, but I like the supernatural subject matter. The narrator views the death of Death as a good thing, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t result in zombie apocalypse. Freneau is the first truly American author on this list, which is pleasant because when our narrator describes the trilling of a bird it is a North American bird and he mentions the Chesapeake, which is a body of water that I know. Feels nice.
Dim burnt the lamp, and now the phantom Death
Gave his last groans in horror and despair —
“All hell demands me hence,” — he said, and threw
The red lamp hissing through the midnight air.
You have to admit “All hell demands me hence,” is a pretty great thing to say.
You might like the poetry of Phillip Freneau if:
- you read all of Wordsworth and are looking for yet further poems about flowers.
- you like ghost stories.
You might not like the poetry of Phillip Freneau if:
- you are offended by the “Noble Savage” attitude.
- you are offended by mediocre poetry.
Final thoughts: No, I did not completely mess up the carpals and metacarpals! Death has abnormal anatomy specialized for clutching the soul from your body. Duh.