Analyzing the components comprising famous writings is of tremendous interest for scholars worldwide. Many American writers referred to the literary elements of romanticism when producing their works, engaging the concepts of individualism, imagination, and nature. William Cullen Bryant and Washington Irving are two exemplary authors who often implemented such notions in their creations, gathering inspiration from natural landscapes and exploring the possibilities of mystical events. This work will argue that the two literary pieces, Thanatopsis and The Devil and Tom Walker, utilize specific elements of romantic writing, namely celebration of nature and appealing to the supernatural.
The poem Thanatopsis, introduced by Bryant, is a vivid example of romanticism in poetry. The work openly addresses the significance of nature, as well as the necessity of a union between a man and the environment. The author states: “She [nature] has a voice of gladness, and smile and eloquence of beauty” (Bryant, 1893, p. 10). Bryant portrays nature as a graceful woman who presides over people and time, representing the peace and beauty that awaits everyone after death. According to the writer, both nature and death appear together, leading the dead to their last destination – a magnificent sepulcher, surrounded by astonishing natural wonders, forests, rivers, and meadows. By appealing to this concept, the author creates an impression of the past life as a solemn but beautiful environment that awaits all individuals, regardless of their social status and achievements. Altogether, the poem adheres to the topic of nature, celebrating its power over humanity.
An additional element of romanticism present in Thanatopsis regards the connection to the supernatural. Bryant discusses the theme of mysticism, describing an imaginary location that links the world of the living and the dead. The author produces a unique view of the afterlife: “And, poured round all, Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste, – are but the solemn decorations all of the great tomb of men” (Bryant, 1893, p. 16). Portrayed is the mystery realm, unknown to the living and inhabited by all the people who died. The location is solemn and spiritual in its nature, hosting the souls of those who passed away and joined the “one mighty sepulchre” (Bryant, 1893, p. 14). When depicting the afterlife, the author purposefully constructs an environment surrounded by the supernatural: the personification of nature, death, and the millions of dead who rest in this mysterious abode. Such an illustration has a tremendous influence on the audience, compelling them to contemplate the subject of spirituality.
Implementing the principles of romanticism is also possible within the works of prose, allowing the writer to convey specific ideas. In the short story The Devil and Tom Walker, Washington Irving masterfully employs similar concepts previously adopted by Bryant, the natural environment and spiritualism. First of all, Irving refers to nature when describing the location of the Indian Fort, the home of the devil. In order to successfully express the mood and create a particular impression on the reader, the author thoroughly explains the imagery of the devil’s domain. The writer says: “The swamp was thickly grown with great, gloomy pines and hemlocks, some of them ninety feet high, which made it dark at noonday” (Irving, 1988, p. 16). Moreover, “the green surface often betrayed the traveler into a gulf of black, smothering mud” (Irving, 1988, p. 16). The location’s natural characteristics create an unsettling feeling, prompting the audience to expect dreadful and unpleasant events.
Secondly, to make a more significant impact on the reader, Irving includes an element of the supernatural into the short story. The events of The Devil and Tom Walker regard the subject of mysterious powers possessed by the devil and the consequences of interacting with him. For example, the narrative states that after Walker’s wife attempted to bargain with the devil, “She was never heard of more,” claiming that the woman mysteriously disappeared after her communication with the evil forces (Irving, 1988, p. 17). Furthermore, the supernatural feature perfectly manifests when the devil returns to obtain Walker himself, as an accidental witness reports the startling events. The man saw a person “on a horse that galloped like mad […] towards the old Indian Fort”; and “shortly after a thunder-bolt falling in that direction seemed to set the whole forest on fire” (Irving, 1988, p. 20). Overall, it appears is that a wealthy and affluent usurer disappeared without a trace under peculiar circumstances, leaving behind no monetary possessions but cinders and shavings, further attributing to the situation’s inexplicability.
To conclude, the works Thanatopsis and The Devil and Tom Walker were thoroughly examined in this paper, clearly utilizing certain elements of romanticism. Bryant makes exemplary use of nature celebration by appealing to its powers, which surround the tombs of all the diseased. In order to further establish the characteristics of the location, the author introduces mysticism, suggesting the spirituality of the place. Similar components of romantic writing are evident in Irving’s work, in which natural environments are used to construct feelings of dread and fright, while the supernatural is explored through mysterious occurrences and unbelievable circumstances. Even though the two writers are drastically different, they each present remarkable knowledge of implementing romanticism principles in their writings, thus being perfect examples of the Romanticism Movement.
Bryant, W. C. (1893). ThanaThanaThanatopsis and a forest hymn. Joseph Knight Company.
Irving, W. (1988). The devil and Tom Walker. Perfection Learning.