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Philip Freneau

1752–1832

Born in New York City and raise in Monmouth Country, New Jersey, Philip Morin Freneau graduation from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) in 1771; at the college commencement, his friend Hugh Henry Breckenridge read The Rising Glory of America, a poem on which the two had collaborated. While working for a short time as a schoolteacher in Long Island, Freneau published anti-British satirical verses. He spent two years as secretary to a planter on St. Croix. Having volunteered for military service in 1778, he was captured by a British man-of-war in the a Caribbean and imprisoned, later recounting his ordeal in The British Prison-Ship (1781).

During the 1780s, Freneau worked as a postal clerk in Philadelphia; from 1784 to 1790, he captained a merchant ship in the Caribbean. He published The Poems of Philip Freneau, Written Chiefly dying the Late War in 1786, and The Miscellaneous Works of Mr. Philip Freneau in 1788. Settling briefly in Middleton Point, New Jersey, where he married, in 1791 Freneau was offered a government clerkship by Thomas Jefferson and moved to Philadelphia where he founded and edited the anti-Federalist National Gazette. George Washington referred to him as “that rascal Freneau.”

Returning to New Jersey in 1793 after Jefferson lost his position as secrete of state, Freneau edited asmall New York and New Jersey newspapers and until 1804 occasionally worked as a caption of merchant vessels. His Poems Written between the Years 1768 & 1794 was published in 1795; Poems Written and Published during the American Revolutionary War appears in 1809.

By This Poet

39

Occasioned by General Washington's Arrival in Philadelphia, On His Way to His Residence in Virginia

The great, unequal conflict past, 
   The Briton banish'd from our shore, 
Peace, heav'n-descended, comes at last, 
   And hostile nations rage no more;
      From fields of death the weary swain 
      Returning, seeks his native plain. 

In every vale she smiles serene, 
   Freedom's bright stars more radiant rise, 
New charms she adds to every scene, 
   Her brighter sun illumes our skies; 
      Remotest realms admiring stand, 
      And hail the Hero of our land: 

He comes!—the Genius of these lands— 
   Fame's thousand tongues his worth confess, 
Who conquered with his suffering bands, 
   And grew immortal by distress: 
      Thus calms succeed the stormy blast, 
      And valour is repaid at last. 

O Washington!—thrice glorious name, 
   What due rewards can man decree— 
Empires are far below thy aim, 
   And sceptres have no charms for thee; 
      Virtue alone has thy regard, 
      And she must be thy great reward. 

Encircled by extorted power, 
   Monarchs must envy thy Retreat, 
Who cast, in some ill fated hour, 
   Their country's freedom at their feet; 
      'Twas thine to act a nobler part 
      For injur'd Freedom had thy heart. 

For ravag'd realms and conquer'd seas 
   Borne gave the great imperial prize, 
And, swelTd with pride, for feats like these, 
   Transferr'd her heroes to the skies:— 
      A brighter scene your deeds display, 
      You gain those heights a different way. 

When Faction rear'd her bristly head, 
   And join'd with tyrants to destroy, 
Where'er you march' d the monster fled, 
   Tim'rous her arrows to employ; 
      Hosts catch'd from you a bolder flame, 
      And despots trembled at your name. 

Ere war's dread horrors ceas'd to reign, 
   What leader could your place supply?— 
Chiefs crowded to the embattled plain, 
   Prepaid to conquer or to die— 
      Heroes arose— but none like yon 
      Could save our lives and freedom too. 

In swelling verse let kings be read, 
   And princes shine in polish'd prose; 
Without such aid your triumphs spread 
   Where'er the convex ocean flows, 
      To Indian worlds by seas embrac'd, 
      And Tartar, tyrant of the waste. 

Throughout the east you gain applause, 
   And soon the Old World, taught by you, 
Shall blush to own her barbarous laws, 
   Shall learn instruction from the New: 
      Monarchs shall hear the humble plea, 
      Nor urge too far the proud decree. 

Despising pomp and vain parade, 
   At home you stay, while France and Spain 
The secret, ardent wish convey'd, 
   And hail'd you to their shores in vain: 
      In Vernon's groves you shun the throne,
      Admir'd by kings, but seen by none. 

Your fame, thus spread to distant lands, 
   May envy's fiercest blasts endure, 
Like Egypt's pyramids it stands, 
   Built on a basis more secure; 
      Time's latest age shall own in you 
      The patriot and the statesman too. 

Now hurrying from the busy scene, 
   Where thy Potowmack's waters flow, 
Mayt thou enjoy thy rural reign, 
   And every earthly blessing know; 
      Thus He* whom Rome's proud legions sway'd, 
      Beturn'd, and sought his sylvan shade. 

Not less in wisdom than in war 
   Freedom shall still employ your mind, 
Slavery shall vanish, wide and far, 
   'Till not a trace is left behind; 
      Your counsels not bestow'd in vain 
      Shall still protect this infant reign, 

So when the bright, all-cheering sun 
   From our contracted view retires, 
Though fools may think his race is run, 
   On other worlds he lights his fires: 
      Cold climes beneath his influence glow, 
      And frozen rivers learn to flow. 

O say, thou great, exalted name! 
   What Muse can boast of equal lays, 
Thy worth disdains all vulgar fame, 
   Transcends the noblest poet's praise, 
      Art soars, unequal to the flight, 
      And genius sickens at the height. 

For States redeem'd— our western reign 
   Restored by thee to milder sway, 
Thy conscious glory shall remain 
   When this great globe is swept away, 
      And all is lost that pride admires, 
      And all the pageant scene expires.


* Cincinnatus

Pestilence

Hot, dry winds forever blowing,
Dead men to the grave-yards going:
                Constant hearses,
                Funeral verses;
Oh! what plagues—there is no knowing!

Priests retreating from their pulpits!—
Some in caves, and some in cole-pits
                Snugly hiding,
                There abiding
’Till the town is rid of culprits.

Doctors raving and disputing,
Death's pale army still recruiting—
                What a pother
                One with t'other!
Some a-writing, some a-shooting.

Nature's poisons here collected,
Water, earth, and air infected—
                O, what pity,
                Such a City,
Was in such a place erected!

Jeffery, or, the Solder’s Progress

Lur’d by some Captain’s smooth address,
His scarlet coat and roguish face,
One Half-A-Joe on drum-head laid,
A tavern-treat—and reckoning paid;
See yonder simple lad consign’d
To slavery of the basest kind.

With only skill to drive a plough
a musquet he must handle now;
Must twirl there and twirl it there
Now on the ground, no in the air:
Its every motion by some rule
Of practice, taught in Frederick’s school, *
Must be directed—nicely true—
Or he be beaten black—and blue.

A sergeant, rais’d from cleaning shoes
May now this country lad abuse:—
On meager fare grown poor and lean,
He treats him like a mere machine,
Directs his look, directs his step,
And kicks him into decent shape,
From aukward habit frees the clown,
Erects his head—or knocks him down,

Last Friday week to Battery-Green
The sergeant came with this Machine—
One motion of the firelock miss’d—
The Tutor thump’d him with his fist:
I saw him lift his hickory cane,
I heard poor Jeffery’s head complain!—
Yet this—and more—’s forc’d to bear;
And this goes on from year to year,
’Till desperate grown at such a lot,
He drinks—deserts—and so is shot!

 

°The Prussian manual exercise.