The Day Is Done

The Day Is Done American Literary Romanticism

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was associated with American literary romanticism, which spanned roughly the years 1820-1865.

Romanticism proper originated in Europe in the late 18th century and was a reaction to the Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason and rationality and industrialization’s coarse materialism and mechanization. Romantic novelists and poets such as Goethe, Scott, Keats, Blake, Shelley, Dumas, Coleridge, and Pushkin (as well as painters like Caspar David Friedrich) focused on unrestrained emotion, chivalry, and the sublime. They were inspired by the tales of knights and ladies from the Middle Ages and looked to the old French romances; many works were also inflected with the Gothic.

Romanticism migrated across the Atlantic to America in the mid-19th century. American Romantics looked to their vast wilderness and frontier, “savage” Native Americans, the heroic colonial and revolutionary past, and the shared values of freedom and individualism as inspirations for their work. Romanticism in America dovetailed with Transcendentalism, a literary and philosophical movement that stressed independence of thought, the value of Nature, and the unity of the individual soul with the world. Writers also experimented with form and played around heavily with symbolism.

Scholars Robert D. Habich and Robert C. Nowatzki identify some of the main characteristics of American romanticism: individualism and “celebration of eccentric individuals who refuse to conform to social norms or accede to traditional authority figures”; celebration of the beauty of nature and nature’s role in enhancing spirituality; imagination instead of logic; emotion and emotional extremes; celebration of rural life and common folk; celebration of Native Americans as ‘noble savages’; support for revolution; the sublime “as a quality that invokes awe and even terror in the human mind.”

American romantic authors include James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Washington Irving, and Longfellow. Other poets influenced by the movement include Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman.

Romanticism's influence on Longfellow can be seen in his evocation of the colonial past ("Paul Revere's Ride"), focus on emotion ("Day is Done"), individualism ("Psalm of Life"), and the wilderness and Native Americans ("A Song of Hiawatha").