Land and Sea

The Lyric Poetry of Philip Freneau


Richard C. Vitzthum

Although Philip Freneau is best known as the poet of the American Revolution, half his poems had nothing to do with the war, Professor Vitzthum points out, and this, the first systematic, in-depth study of Freneau’s lyric poetry, provides a fresh perspective on the poet’s non-political work. Demonstrating that there is a heretofore unrecognized pattern of land-sea imagery and symbolism in Freneau’s best work. Professor Vitzthum traces changes reflected in this imagery to developments in the poet’s thought, which in turn related to major intellectual and literary trends in revolutionary and early republican America. An introductory chapter assesses twentieth century biographical and critical estimates of Freneau, outlines the key themes in his work, and links his thirty-year career as sailor and ship captain to his creation of a covert, symbolistic poetic method. The following five chapters chronologically discuss Freneau’s non-political poems from 1772 through 1815. Professor Vitzthum concludes that Freneau was not the derivative and unsuccessful artist he is currently thought to have been but, rather, one of America’s genuinely important poets.

Richard C. Vitzthum is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Maryland.

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