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The Wild Honey Suckle

Philip Morin Freneau's “The Wild Honey Suckle” and Ralph Waldo Emerson's “Each and All” both take a view of a nature as their occasion, and both treat nature in a lyrical way. Both authors wrote in the first half of the nineteenth century, during a period of widespread optimism in the young American republic. The Transcendentalist and Romantic movements took root in the new country, both of which represented the earliest ideas that were unique to letters in America. The belief in the power of the individual informed the basics of Transcendentalism; the emotional depth of Romanticism filled the aesthetic gaps that the ascetic philosophy of Puritanism had left all over New England. When Freneau was not writing politics, he was writing in a Romantic, lyric style; his observations of nature rang with such beauty that they served to inspire Thoreau, Emerson and others who led the Transcendentalist movement to find their solace outside in the natural world. In “The Wild Honey Suckle,” one sees the emphasis on nature and imagery that is a part of the bridge between Romanticism and Transcendentalism. In “Each and All,” the love of nature remains, but the philosophical underpinnings of Transcendentalism appear more in full force, as the maturity of the movement has moved on. The two poems are similar in their use of imagery and their focus in nature. “Each and All,” though, has more of an overt message for the reader than does “The Wild Honey Suckle.”

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Both poems ring with a love of nature. In “The Wild Honey Suckle,” the speaker is addressing the fragile flower. This bloom is protected from the ravages of civilization: “Untouch'd thy honey'd blossoms blow,/Unseen thy little branches greet” (3-4). The Romantic idea that nature represented a perfect ideal was also mirrored in Transcendentalist writing; composing his poem a bit earlier than Emerson, Freneau is captivated by the beauty of this ideal and does not want civilization to damage it. This perfect bloom could be taken to represent some sort of moral purity or at least the innocence of the created, but there is little evidence to suggest that there is a moral argument being made here. The simple beauty of this bloom, seen by the speaker in what feels like a secret arbor, is enough for the poet – and the poem.

In “Each and All,” there is also an appreciation for nature, but it is taken through a wider lens. The affection for creation takes on multiple scenes, as the speaker moves from a pasture to the shore. He finds his greatest love for nature's beauty where “the delicate shells lay on the shore” (19) and “the bubbles of the latest wave/Fresh pearls to their enamel gave” (20-21), but such images as “the violet's breath” (43) and “the sparrow's note from heaven” (13) Both poems use imagery as their predominant device to carry the rhetorical arguments. In “The Wild Honey Suckle,” the reader is almost overwhelmed with the different aspects of the flower's beauty – just as the speaker is. The vision of the protected honey suckle makes the speaker think that Nature “bade [the flower] shun the vulgar eye,/And planted here the guardian shade,/ And sent soft waters murmuring by” (8-10) just to give the honey suckle a beautiful existence. One of the Romantic ideas that made its way into Transcendentalism was the idea that much of the divinity present in the world was accessible through nature. While Transcendentalists tended to be skeptical of traditional, organized religious institutions, they deeply felt a sense of the divine within themselves, and within nature. As a result, it was only natural that writers in this genre would view Nature and see elements of the otherworldly in it. It was one thing to laugh at the Puritans, and other forms of the organized Church – but quite another to laugh at the sort of Providence that would have assembled and inhabited Nature.

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In “Each and All,” the images do not focus on one vision but instead provide a collage for the reader. The powerful images, though, begin almost immediately, with the humorously “red-cloaked clown” (1) in the field to scare off crows and moves forward from field to sea. It is interesting that the “sparrow's note from heaven” (13) only provides momentary delight: as the speaker observes, “he sings the song, but it pleases not now;/For I did not bring home the river and sky; /He sang to my ear; they sang to my eye” (16-18). Clearly, the visual aspect of observing nature is superior to the aural aspects. While the memory of the sparrow's song might engage a different sense, the visual stimulus is the most pleasing. It is the parade of visual images, both the literal objects that the speaker sees and the figurative objects that the speaker uses to build metaphors, that gives the poem its beauty.

An area of difference between the two poems is that, while “The Wild Honey Suckle” is content to muse about beauty, “Each and All” has a more abstract message for the reader. The closest that the speaker gets to a message in “The Wild Honey Suckle” is the grief that the speaker feels when contemplating the future of this flower. After all, honey suckles only life a short time, and it is soon that “Autumn's power/Shall leave no vestige of this flower” (17-18). Then, the speaker briefly contemplates the mortality of the human as well, but the focus is on the effervescently fleeting beauty of the honey suckle, protected now by the shade, only to die in a matter of months.

In “Each and All,” though, the powerful sense of individualism that informs Transcendentalism is in full force. After seeing the heifer in the field, the sparrow in the tree, the beauty of the sea, and the lover and his beloved, the speaker utters one of the maxims of Transcendentalism: “'I covet Truth; /Beauty is unripe childhood's cheat, – / I leave it behind with the games of youth'” (37-39). When the speaker utters this, he starts to become one with nature: the “ground-pine [curls] its pretty wreath” about the speaker's feet, and “the eternal sky, / Full of light and deity” (46-47) shows the speaker the full divinity accessible in Nature – all that is left is for the speaker to “[yield himself] to the perfect whole” (51). The arrangement of images in this poem has led to an affirmation of the Transcendentalist creeds.

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Both “The Wild Honey Suckle” and “Each and All” are powerful works representative of the Romantic and Transcendentalist movements in American literature in the early nineteenth century. Both are beacons that shine the optimism that the new country felt, as a green continent lay before it, with the only limits that seemed to be place on possibility those that one could not conquer oneself. The Romantics filled the huge gaps of the continent with feelings and beauty that ranged from the lyrical odes such as Freneau's to the dark visions that boiled in the mind of Poe. The Transcendentalists thought that the new country could be a place that changed the way that society worked; and it may have, even though not in the way that Emerson and Thoreau might have liked. Both poems served as parts of the manifesto, though, that inspired the formation of a new nation.

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