Philip Freneau 'The Wild Honey Suckle' and 'To a New England Poet'

Term Paper 2004 15 Pages

American Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Two Main Topics: Nature and the American Revolution
2.1 Nature: Example “The Wild Honey Suckle”
2.1.1 Content
2.1.2 Structure and Form
2.1.3 Imagery
2.1.4 Stylistic Devices
2.1.5 Description of the Flower
2.1.6 Themes Beauty and Perfect Construction of Nature Man as Disturber of Nature Death or Mutability of Life The Sense of Life
2.1.7 Does The Language Fit to the Themes?
2.2 Revolution: Example “To a New England Poet”
2.2.1 Content
2.2.2 Structure and Form
2.2.3 Imagery
2.2.4 Stylistic Devices
2.2.5 Description of America and England
2.2.6 Themes How Poets are Treated in England and in America Leaving America The American Revolution

3 Conclusion

4 Bibliography

1 Introduction

Philip Morin Freneau was one America’s most important writers. Especially in the Period of the American Revolution he became famous as a teacher, secretary, seaman, master of a merchant ship, clerk at a post office, as a satirist, journalist, poet, editor of “Freeman’s Journal” and the “National Gazette” and as a translator for Thomas Jefferson.

Two themes that influenced his writings were his interest in nature and the relationship between men and nature as well as the American Revolution. The question which this paper shall discuss is whether his two poems “The Wild Honey Suckle” and “To a New England Poet” are characteristic for his writings and whether they have anything in common. The interest in nature becomes obvious, regarding the first poem. The attitude towards the English and his countrymen is expressed in the second one.

In this paper I will at first analyze the two poems. I will summarize their content, as well as take a look at their structural and formal peculiarities. Then I will pay attention to the imagery and the stylistic devices that are used to transmit a certain atmosphere. Moreover, I will outline how the flower in “The Wild Honey Suckle” is described. In a manner analogous to that I will also focus on the description of America and England in “To a New England Poet.”

Finally, I will try to answer the question whether the two poems are representative for other poems of Philip Freneau and whether Freneau can be called the “Poet of the American Revolution,” since he mainly concentrated on that topic, or whether this is not enough to show the variety of themes he dealt with.

Fortunately, there are interesting works written about the poems of Philip Freneau as those of Lewis Leary, his biographer, Mary Weatherspoon Bowden, Jacob Axelrad, Nelson F. Adkins, Harry Hayden Clark or Richard C. Vitzthum.

An interesting question is why there are so many different opinions on Philip Freneau’s works. Is it true that “Philip Freneau failed in almost everything he attempted” (Leary The Rascal Freneau ix)?

2 Two Main Topics: Nature and the American Revolution

2.1 Nature: Example “The Wild Honey Suckle”

2.1.1 Content

In “The Wild Honey Suckle” Philip Freneau addresses a flower, writing to it, how beautiful it is. He wishes that it should not be damaged. He appreciates the skilfully planted wild honey suckle and its harmonic place within nature. Freneau also expresses his worries about the flower and compares it to those in paradise. He is aware of the flower’s fading and the short time that lies between growing and dying.

2.1.2 Structure and Form

The poem is divided into four stanzas. Each stanza consists of four lines, which are composed in cross rhymes. Then, after an insertion, comes a rhyming couplet. The first four lines of each stanza describe the flower and address it. The last two lines show the fate of that flower. The rhythm is regular and iambic with four stressed syllables in each line. All cadences are male, except for those in the rhyming couplets of stanza three and four, which are female. The regularity of structure and form make the poem well-readable.

2.1.3 Imagery

Philip Freneau employs a language full of imagery. Especially personifications constitute a main part of “The Wild Honey Suckle”. Moreover, the flower itself is personified. The narrator talks to the flower as if it were a human being. He expresses that the “little branches greet” (line 4), hopes that there will be no “tear” (6) of the flower and advices it to “shun the vulgar eye” (8). The “roving foot” and the “busy hand” (5f) are metaphors of the destruction of nature by men. Nature itself is personified as “Nature’s self” (7) which arrayed the flowers “and planted here the guardian shade and sent soft waters murmuring by” (9f). The waters are personified as well, being smooth and producing sounds like silent talking.

The skilful use of images makes the scenery visible for the reader. On the one hand personification points out that the flower is not a soulless thing, but an organism comparable to human beings. The flower, which is equipped with human attributes, becomes a character. That emphasizes the similarities of men and other beings of God’s creation, which are equal. Thus, man has no right to destroy nature. On the other hand the personifications of the wild honey suckle allows speculations on the question whether the flower is only a flower or whether it is symbolic for something else.

Furthermore, Freneau suggests a unity in nature, a unity which is reached through the cycle of the seasons and that of the day. Everything in nature is perfectly connected. As Mary Weatherspoon Bowden writes “Freneau unites the theme of the seasons with the thought that all must die” (148). “Thy summer …” (11) is a paraphrase for the blooming time of the flower. Accordingly, summer symbolizes the blooming and thus life and nature’s beauty, whereas “Autumn’s power” takes away the fruit and leads to death. The flower came “from morning suns and evening dews” (19), which are other images to express the beauty of nature. The used images and personifications create a melancholic atmosphere and praise the flower and nature.

2.1.4 Stylistic Devices

Not only by the choice of melancholic but harmonic images has Freneau managed to draw a positive picture. The numerous stylistic devices as anaphora, alliteration and onomatopoetic expressions complete the idyllic atmosphere of the poem. The “Fair flower[‘s]” (1) “blossoms blow” (3), but the “days [are] declining” (12). Anaphora is sometimes used in the rhyming couplet at the end of each stanza as in “Noroving foot shall crush thee here, / Nobusy hand provoke a tear” (5f) or “Thespace between is but an hour, / Thefrail duration of a flower” (23f). In the third and fourth line of the first and the second stanza anaphors are also used: “Untouched thy honeyed blossoms blow, / Unseen thy little branches greet;” (3f) or in the second “Andplanted here the guardian shade, / And sent soft waters murmuring by;” (9f). Onomatopoetic expressions as “crush” (5) or “murmuring” (10) are used to illustrate the images. Employing so many stylistic devices, the harmony expressed through the tone is continued. Describing a beautiful thing, Freneau uses beautiful words and a beautiful style.



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Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz – Department of English
Philip Freneau Wild Honey Suckle England Poet Literature From Colony Early Republic




Title: Philip Freneau  'The Wild Honey Suckle' and 'To a New England Poet'