William Cullen Bryant - Biography and Works

William Cullen Bryant a born puritan was a great American Romantic poet. He was born in the family of father Peter Bryant and mother Sarah Snell in Massachusetts. At the age of 16, he joined Williams College, but just after two years he left it and started studying law in Worthington and at Bridgewater. He began practicing law in Plainfield and at Great Barrington as an advocate and worked there for ten years.

William C. Bryant (1794-1878)

Bryant’s interest in literature, especially in poetry was developed by his father’s guidance. In his early life at the age of 13 he published ‘The Embargo’ a vehement attack to the president Thomas Jefferson for passing the Act of 1807 that banned American ships from trading in all foreign harbors. This poem was a great beginning for him as it was quickly sold out in large numbers.

He got married to Frances Fairchild at the age of 26 and their married life was happy. In 1825, he became the co-editor of the New York Review and in 1829 he became successful to be to the chief editor of the Evening Post.

Though his parents had been Puritans, Bryant’s own philosophy was democratic and liberal. As a poet, he disliked the old neoclassical style, though in his early years he was influenced by the Pope. He agreed with the Romantic poets of Europe (such as England's Wordsworth) that the new poetry should not simply copy the forms and ideas of the ancient classics. Rather, it should break away from the old patterns.

At the age of 17, he wrote his most famous poem ‘Thanatopsis’ which means a view of death in Greek language. It was published in 1817 in The North American Review. He rejected the puritan belief of his father in this poetry that he showed in ‘The Embargo’ and turned from federalism to the Democratic Party. He was one of the great supporter of labor’s right and right of the blacks.  He was one of the founding members of the Republican Party. In his later phase of life, he dedicated himself in the translations.

Bryant was also a writer with a deep social conscience. As a newspaper editor, he fought hard for the rights of the laborer and of blacks. In such poems as The Indian Girl's Lament and The African Chief, he praises the qualities that unite all people. But it is his nature poetry which we read with the greatest pleasure today. Furthermore, this poetry prepared the way for the Transcendentalist writers who would soon bring American literature to the attention of the world.

Related Topic

Thanatopsis: Summary and Analysis