Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poets: Analysis of PHILIP FRENEAU

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Analysis:             Poet's Biography

Philip Freneau (1752–1832) was an American poet, nationalist (also known as the "Poet of the American Revolution"), polemicist, sea captain, and newspaper editor sometimes called the "Father of American Literature" or the "Father of American Poetry." He was a forerunner of the Romantic movement in American literature.

Literary Background

Freneau's literary career began with his graduation from Princeton University, where he met James Madison and Hugh Henry Brackenridge, with whom he would collaborate on a commencement poem. His writing matured during the Revolutionary War, where he served both as a privateer and a prisoner of war, experiences which greatly influenced his poetry.

Early Influences

The Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason, liberty, and the questioning of traditional authority, greatly impacted Freneau. His work reflects the influence of revolutionary ideals and the struggle for American independence. The literary circles he moved in included other Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and Madison, who shared his ideals and influenced his writing.

Poetic Schools or Movements

Freneau can be associated with early American Romanticism, even though this movement would only fully blossom after his time. His poetry contained elements that celebrated nature, emphasized emotion, and highlighted individualism, which would become keystones of the Romantic period.

Poetic Oeuvre: Phases and Themes

Freneau's work is often divided into various thematic phases:

*Revolutionary and Political Verse: Freneau's early work was deeply imbued with the revolutionary spirit, celebrating American independence and criticizing British rule. His poetry was used as a tool of political expression and resistance.

*Nature Poetry: Later in life, Freneau turned to themes of nature. In works like "The Wild Honey Suckle" and "The Indian Burying Ground," he showed an appreciation for the American landscape and Native American culture.

*Sea Poetry and Captivity Narratives: His time at sea and his experiences as a prisoner influenced poems such as "The British Prison Ship," which depicts the harrowing conditions faced by American prisoners.

The major themes in Freneau's poetry include:

*Patriotism and Liberty: His work often reflects his fervent belief in American independence and freedom.

*Nature and the Environment: He is also remembered for his celebration of the natural world and his early advocacy for environmental themes.

*Critique of Oppression: Freneau's poems frequently address the evils of slavery and imperialism, showcasing his progressive stance for the era.


Freneau's influence is felt in the realm of American political and nature poetry. He helped to articulate the spirit of a new nation and laid the groundwork for American Romanticism. His work influenced later writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, and he is considered one of the first American writers to craft a distinctly American voice, breaking free from European literary traditions.


Freneau's legacy as a poet was somewhat overshadowed by his political writings during his lifetime. However, his recognition grew posthumously as scholars came to appreciate his role in shaping American literary identity. While he may not have received many formal honors during his life, his place in the canon of American literature is well established.


Philip Freneau stands as a seminal figure in American literature. His body of work represents the patriotic fervor of a nation in the midst of birth and the romantic sensibility that would come to characterize American literature. Through both his political and natural poetry, he championed freedom and individuality, presaging the themes that would dominate American writing in the 19th century. His poetry not only served the cause of American independence but also laid the foundation for a national literary heritage.

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