The American literature of the nineteenth century is characterised by a spirit of Romanticism. The years, from 1828 to 1865, from the Jacksosian era to the Civil War is called "the American Romantic Period." It was the era of the blossoming of a "distinctively American literature" (Abrams, page 206). Also known as the American Renaissance, this period was marked by eminent writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The age produced works of originality and excellence in all literary genres (except drama) not exceeded in quality by later American literature. This epoch in the history of American literature is also referred to as "the Age of Transcendentalism", after the literary and philosophical movement in New England, which revolved around the "most distinguished of the New England Transcendentalists"( Gerber, page 380)- Ralph Waldo Emerson. Apart from being a central exponent of Transcendentalism, Emerson was one of the most brilliant poets and thinkers of the nineteenth century America.
Edgar Allan Poe, John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman were the prominent poets of the American Romantic Age. Emerson attitude to life and art was formed mainly from his readings of a variety of philosophical and religious texts. The major influences upon him were the religious thought of New England and related English works, Scottish realism, French and English skepticism, Neo-Platonism as interpreted by the English romantic poets and the German and French idealists, Oriental mystical writings and Yankee pragmatism. The English poets like Milton, Herbert and Donne influenced his use of words and symbols. These poets had made poetry a vehicle for re-establishing the power of God in the world.
Three basic ideas form the essence of Emerson's thought. They are the distinction between Reason and Understanding, the idea of emanation and the idea of immanence. The meaning of these ideas with respect to a man's life can be seen in Emerson's theory of the fall and recovery of man. The reading of Coleridge, especially his explanation of Platonic dualism and the distinction between the Reason and the Understanding transformed Emerson's way of thinking. From the various sources he formed an amalgamated philosophy- that of the Oversoul, or "the impersonal force that is eternal, moral, harmonious and beneficent in tendency" (Gerber, page 380). Emerson believed in a higher source of knowledge, accessible to man through his intuition.
Emerson used symbolism in his poetry. He comprehended that there are two levels of existence-the spiritual and physical levels of being- and the need for a balance between the two levels. To explain this contradiction Emerson used in his work, especially in his poetry oppositions such as One and Many, cause and effect, unity and diversity, object and its symbol, reality and appearance, truths and hypotheses,...