The transcendentalist movement hit America full force by the mid 19th century, crafting a passionate spiritual idealism in its wake and leaving a unique mark on the history of American literature. Transcendentalism stems from the broader Romanticist time period, which depends on intuition rather than reasoning. Transcendentalism takes a step further into the realm of spirituality with the principle that in order to discover the divine truth that the individual seeks, he or she must transcend, or exceed, the “everyday human experience in the physical world” (“Elements of Literature: Fifth Course” 146). Nature, the physical world, is seen as a doorway to the divine world; beings can cross over into this divine world by not only observing nature, but also looking within themselves. As a result, individuality and self-assurance are seen as virtues, since they come from the heart of the individual. William Cullen Bryant and his poem Thanatopsis, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s The American Scholar, and Walt Whitman’s A Noiseless Patient Spider all display fundamental characteristics of Transcendentalism.
William Cullen Bryant was a famous American poet of the 1800s, integrating major themes of transcendentalism into his poems and short stories. Thanatopsis is one of Bryant’s most famous works, and combines the themes of nature, death, and the unity of these two with humanity. He starts by personifying nature, and claims he has a unique relationship with “her” and all her different “forms”, referring to sights that adorn the landscape. Valleys, brooks, and plant life are all her different forms. Bryant explains that nature speaks differently to an individual according to their mood: “Communion with her visible forms, she speaks/A various language; for his gayer hours/She has a voice of gladness, and a smile” (2-4). When that individual’s attitude changes, so does nature’s character: “and she glides/Into his darker musings, with a mild/And healing
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