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Poetry of the American Revolution Era

Updated on October 28, 2013
Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, MMA-NYC, 1851.
Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, MMA-NYC, 1851. | Source

From 1723 to 1800 Americans were in the Revolutionary Period. This influenced the literature of the time. Battles in the American Revolution were not fought just with traditional weapons, but also with words: pamphlets, essays, songs, speeches, and poems. Largely because of all this revolutionary spirit, the arts began to flourish, and people were inspired to express their ideas. In this time period, epic poetry started showing up for the first time in American literature as did revolutionary songs.

The Revolutionary Era in America

Benjamin Frankin arrives in Philadelphia
authored "Poor Richard's Almanack"
Franklin experiemnts with lightning
discovers lightning is made of electricity
Stamp Act
Americans protested until England withdrew the tax.
Townshend Acts
Americans again protested until England withdrew the tax
Boston Massacre
British troops kill 5 people.
Boston Tea Party
Colonists protest another tax; Britain reacts by laying seige to Boston
1775 - 1783
Revolutionary War
Colonies declare, fight for, and win independence from Britain.
George Washington inaugurated
Becomes 1st president of the United States
Spirit of '76 -- inspired by "Yankee Doodle."
Spirit of '76 -- inspired by "Yankee Doodle." | Source

Revolutionary Era Songs

The revolutionaries often used songs to further their views. They sang everywhere they got together, spreading their political ideas and feelings.

One popular song from that time period was called “The Farmer and his Son’s return from a visit to the camp.” It is a song we still know today, but under a different title: “Yankee Doodle.” During the Revolutionary Period, though, the song spanned for 15 stanzas, and the words were slightly different.

The Farmer and his Son’s return from a visit to the camp

Author Unknown

Father and I went down to camp,

Along with Captain Gooding,

And there we see the men and boys

As thick as hasty pudding.

Yankey doodle keep it up, yankey doodle dandy,

Mind the music and the step,

And with the girls be handy.

The origin of the song is not entirely known. It has an ABCB DED rhyme scheme. There is a simile with “as thick as hasty pudding,” a way of describing the group of men and boys at the camp. There is also an example of alliteration: “Mind the music.” It is thought that the song originated as a British march, but ended up as a popular Revolutionary song – that is a bit of irony!

In the song, a young boy is visiting Washington’s camp. The young boy, with his attention to dancing and girls but still signing up for war, serves as a symbol of the ideal hero of the time: young, enthusiastic, and willing to fight for independence.

Benjamin Franklin inspired Freneau's poem.
Benjamin Franklin inspired Freneau's poem. | Source

Philip Freneau and Revolutionary Era Poems

Philip Freneau (1752 – 1832) worked as a political writer and a newspaper editor. However, he also wrote poems about American and American heroes.

On The Death of Dr. Benjamin Franklin

By Philip Freneau

Thus, some tall tree that long hath stood
The glory of its native wood,
By storms destroyed, or length of years,
Demands the tribute of our tears.

The pile, that took long time to raise,
To dust returns by slow decays:
But, when its destined years are o'er,
We must regret the loss the more.

So long accustomed to your aid,
The world laments your exit made;
So long befriended by your art,
Philosopher, 'tis hard to part!--

When monarchs tumble to the ground,
Successors easily are found:
But, matchless FRANKLIN! what a few
Can hope to rival such as YOU,
Who seized from kings their sceptered pride,
And turned the lightning darts aside.

The poem reads like an ode to Benjamin Franklin, one of the great heroes of the time. The majority of the poem is written in quatrains with an AABB rhyme scheme. However, the final stanza is a quatrain with a couplet to finish; the couplet makes a point of how great Franklin’s achievements were.

The poem is filled with imagery: destroying storms, dust, monarchs tumbling to the ground; Freneau has created some distinct images. The first two stanzas develop an extended metaphor: Benjamin Franklin as a tall tree that has finally fallen, or a great man that has finally died. Stanzas 3 and 4 are written in apostrophe, with the narrator directly addressing Franklin. This changes the mood of the poem and makes it read more emotionally. In the end Freneau’s couplet indulges in a bit of hyperbole: while it is true that Franklin was important to the American Revolution and discovery of electricity, he did not literally seize scepters or turn lightning aside. However, the final couplet leaves the reader with the image of a great man who will be missed, which was Freneau’s intent.

American Revolution

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    • nArchuleta profile image

      Nadia Archuleta 4 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Well, I WAS an English teacher. ;) Thanks for stopping by!

    • JG11Bravo profile image

      JG11Bravo 4 years ago

      Interesting. It never occurred to me to look into this particular subject at length.