Timothy Dwight: Contribution as American Poet

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      Timothy Dwight (1752-1817).—Before he became president of Yale, Dwight determined to immortalize himself by an epic poem. He accordingly wrote the Conquest of Canaan in 9671 lines, beginning:—

  "The Chief, whose arms to Israel's chosen band    Gave the fair empire of the promis'd land,
  Ordain'd by Heaven to hold the sacred sway,
  Demands my voice, and animates the lay."


Timothy Dwight
Timothy Dwight

      This poem is written in the rocking horse couplets of Pope, and it is well-nigh unreadable to-day. It is doubtful if twenty-five people in our times have ever read it through. Even where the author essays fine writing, as in the lines:—

  "On spicy shores, where beauteous morning reigns,
  Or Evening lingers o'er her favorite plains,"

      There is nothing to awaken a single definite image, nothing but glittering generalities. Dwight's best known poetry is found in his song, Columbia, composed while he was a chaplain in the Revolutionary War:—

  "Columbia, Columbia, to glory arise,
  The queen of the world, and the child of the skies."

      POETRY—THE HARTFORD WITS The Americans were slow to learn that political independence could be far more quickly gained than literary independence. A group of poets, sometimes known as the Hartford Wits, determined to take the kingdom of poetry by violence. The chief of these were three Yale graduates, Timothy Dwight, Joel Barlow, and John Trumbull.

      Timothy Dwight, a grandson of Jonathan Edwards, was a significant American poet of the period as he was one of the founding members of the Connecticut Wits. Born in Massachusetts and matriculated at Yale at the age of 13, he was made a tutor a position and he filled with such zeal that he suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 25. To aid his recuperation from his unhealthy state, he undertook extensive walking and horseback journeys. During the Revolutionary period, he served as an army Chaplain. In 1783 he became a pastor of Congregational Church
at Greenfield Hill, Connecticut. Out of his traveling experiences, he wrote much and variously, in including some attacks on slavery both in prose and poetry. He wrote Travels in New England and New York (1821) in 4 volumes, and The Conquest of Canaan (1785). His most ambitious work, however, was a poem written in imitation of the pastoral elegies of the British writers of the Augustan period, entitled Greenfield Hill: A Poem in Seven Parts, and it was published in 1794. The poem offers an idyllic portrait of socio-cultural life in the American countryside. In this poem, the narrator introduces a world wherein no extremities of wealth and poverty exist. Later, this poem is eulogized as a hymn to the idea of self-reliance and modest sufficiency of Franklin and Jefferson. In 1795, he became the President of Yale in which capacity he successfully advocated the enlargement of the curriculum and published a number of statements of his political views among them A True Means of Establishing Public Happiness (1795) and The Duty of Americans at the Present Crisis (1798). His last significant work Theology, Explained and Defended (1818), is a big collection of 173 sermons which makes a complete statement of his theology.

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