Nature as Reflected in American Literature. Speaks of work by Plato, Twain, Melville, Bryant, andThoreau

Essay by 9021zoneCollege, UndergraduateA+, June 1996

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In his Poetics, Plato contemplates the nature of aesthetics and existence. He postulates that for every existing object and idea there is an absolute 'ideal' which transcends human experience. He further concludes that art, including literature, is an aesthetic representation of real objects and ideas that is used to better understand their 'ideals.' In theory, as an object becomes closer ideal it also becomes a better subject for the artist. American artists in particular have been given an invaluable opportunity to explore this realm of the Platonic ideal. Because the American continent and its wilderness was primarily unsullied by the ravages of civilization, the natural world found there by early settlers was much closer to being 'ideal' than anywhere else on Earth. For this reason, nature has become one of the most important subjects of American art, especially Literature. Specific examples from American literature including the works Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Walden, and 'To a Waterfowl' can show how American authors explore the ideals of human existence through aesthetic representations of nature.

        William Cullen Bryant, who has been called 'the father of American poetry,' is one of the earliest artists to capture the essence of nature in America and apply it to the human experience. In his poem 'To A Waterfowl' he uses the example of a waterfowl to reach a better understanding of human existence. In the poem, the waterfowl is portrayed as a near-perfect creation, and it is treated with a sense of reverence. The first stanza demonstrates this:

                        Whither, midst falling dew,

                While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,

                Far, though their rosy depths, dost thou pursue

                        Thy solitary way?


Though it is not curious that a bird would be flying in the morning,