When one speaks of the great works of American literature, few can forget Walt Whitman’s epic tome, Leaves of Grass. But even before Whitmans’ magnum opus had its first publication, another work had been hailed as one of the greatest collections of poetry and music ever seen: Library of Poetry and Song, published in 1871 by David G. Bryant.
The Library of Poetry and Song is a three-volume set, containing the best of American poetry, song and music from the Colonial-era to the mid-nineteenth century. It includes timeless classics such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Evangeline”, Lydia Sigourney’s “The Indian’s Welcome”, Margaret Junkin Preston’s “The Parted Lover”, William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” and John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Maud Muller”. Many of America’s most respected writers, composers, and poets make appearances in the Library including William L. Alden, Edmund Clarence Stedman, William Aspenwall Bradley, Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Godfrey Saxe.
In addition to its comprehensive contents, the Library also contains a detailed annotation of each work, providing context and insight into its creators and their time. The Library was created with the intention of inspiring, educating and entertaining its readers, and in that it succeeded. While the Library was, understandably, not the best-selling work of its era, it is remembered today as one of the most important works of American literature, and remains an important resource for those who wish to study this golden age of American literature and song.
In its contents and goal, the Library of Poetry and Song can be seen as a precursor to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Both collections capture, in some way, the essence of the American spirit and reflect on the journey of the nation through turmoil, hardship and joy. While one could argue that the Library of Poetry and Song lacks the fecundity and originality of Leaves of Grass, it remains an essential collection and a crucial part of America’s cultural history.
The Library of Poetry and Song is more than just a collection of works; it is also a testament to the power of literature and song to bring comfort, inspiration, and knowledge to a culture and a nation. Since its initial publication almost 150 years ago, the Library has served as a touchstone for those who are looking to capture the true spirit of America.
Historical Context of Bryant’s Library
Though Library of Poetry and Song was published in 1871, the collection represents works from a much longer period, beginning in the mid-1700s. During this period, the United States had declared its independence and the country was still emerging as an independent nation and a leader in world affairs. This period also produced several important developments in American literature, like the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
The works collected in Library of Poetry and Song thus reflect both the political turmoil of the time and the country’s emerging identity. Bryant’s collection thus serves as an important source of insight into the American psyche of the period and the development of the nation as a whole.
Impact of the Library of Poetry and Song
Library of Poetry and Song is most important for its role in the development of American literature. Though the volume was not well-received by contemporary critics upon its publication, the collection has since become an essential artifact of the period and a source of insight into the country’s cultural evolution.
Though the work has not been widely read in recent years, it maintains an important place in the history of American literature as an important precursor to greater works, such as Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Additionally, the collection continues to serve as an important source of insight into the period and its developments in American literature.
Current Preservation of Bryant’s Library
Given its important role in literary history, the Library of Poetry and Song has been preserved in various physical collections throughout the United States. One of the most notable of these collections is housed at the New York Public Library, which has had the work since it first acquired it in 1891.
Additionally, libraries at various universities, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, have worked to collect, preserve and study the work, providing access to students and scholars for generations.
Outside of traditional libraries, the Library of Poetry and Song has been digitized, allowing for the work to reach a much broader audience in a more accessible format. The work is now available on multiple well-known online platforms, including Google Books and the American Memory project, allowing anyone with an internet connection to study and appreciate Bryant’s collection.
Legacy of Bryant and His Work
Though Bryant remains relatively unknown today, his work has had a lasting impact on the literary landscape of the United States. In addition to Library of Poetry and Song, Bryant authored several other works of poetry, music, and essays and served as the editor for several other volumes.
Though Bryant was a Robert Campbell Prize winner and an esteemed member of the literary world of his day, many of his works have since been forgotten. Still, Library of Poetry and Song remains an important record of America’s history and culture, giving readers insight into a bygone era.
Bryant’s Inspiration for his Work
Bryant was inspired by a range of sources in creating the Library of Poetry and Song. He was informed by a range of works, including Virgil’s The Aeneid, Dante’s Paradiso, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Additionally, Bryant drew inspiration from the works of prominent English authors such as John Dryden, John Milton, William Wordsworth, and Robert Burns.
Bryant also was heavily influenced by popular American writers and poets of his time, such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Lydia Sigourney, Margaret Junkin Preston, William Cullen Bryant, and John Greenleaf Whittier. It is clear from the Library of Poetry and Song that Bryant was attempting to capture the essence of the period, combining both classical works with the works of its contemporary authors.
Role of Music in the Library
In addition to poetry, Library of Poetry and Song also includes numerous examples of American music from the period. Bryant included a range of traditional airs, including colonial-era works such as “Haste to the Wedding” and “The Battle of the Kegs”.
Interestingly, Bryant also included a range of Civil War-era songs. These songs clearly reflect the period’s turmoil and pain, serving as somber reminders of the destructiveness of war and its impact on everyday life.
The inclusion of music further adds to the depth of Bryant’s collection, providing readers with a picture of not only the period’s literature and poetry, but its music as well.
Library of Poetry and Song remains an important collection of American literature and music and a testament to Bryant’s genius and talent. The collection provides readers with a range of insight into the cultural and political atmosphere of the mid-19th century as well as a sense of the national spirit at the time. Despite its rather small readership, Library of Poetry and Song remains an invaluable resource and a crucial part of the nation’s cultural heritage.