3. Analysis of Prairie Depiction in “A Tour on the Prairies” and “The Prairies”

The prairies, as depicted in literature, are a place of beauty and freedom; it is represented as a place of much potential in very distinct ways. Both Washington Irving’s A Tour on the Prairies and William Cullen Bryant’s poem The Prairies involve a great deal of praise surrounding the discovery and exploration of this new America. While both authors respect and admire the vastness and unfamiliarity of the prairies they do so in very distinct ways. Irving considers the prairies to be a place that is altogether foreign to him and offers him little comfort, “To one unaccustomed to it, there is something inexpressibly lonely in the solitude of a prairie. The loneliness of a forest seems nothing to it” (Irving 175). To Irving, the prairies represent a place that needs to be understood and in a sense conquered or it will overwhelm and consume a person. Whereas Bryant admires the power of the prairies and the lifestyle that it enforces upon its inhabitants he sees its strangeness as a virtue in the calm that it offers to its visitors, “A fresher wind sweeps by, and breaks my dream, And I am in the wilderness alone” (Bryant 4). Bryant sees the prairies as a place yet untouched by man and thus powerful in its ability to give peace, solitude, and steadfastness in a changing world.

Irving and Bryant also differ on the divinity found in nature. Irving considers the forest to be a much more holy and religious place, comparing it to his own religious experiences, “I was reminded of the effect of sunshine among the stained windows and clustering columns of a Gothic cathedral. Indeed there is a grandeur and solemnity in our spacious forests of the West, that awaken in me the same feeling I have experienced in those vast and venerable piles, and the sound of the wind sweeping through them, supplies occasionally the deep breathings of the organ” (Irving 41). This depiction of the forests offers more powerful imagery than any of the comparisons Irving makes of the prairies. Irving’s religious comparison to the forest shows that his heart lies with the forests, not the prairies. On the other end is Bryant’s reverence toward the prairie as a place of great serenity and divinity, “The hollow beating of his footstep seems A sacrilegious sound” (Bryant 2). Bryant regards the prairies as a place to be worshiped and praised, a place that is divine in its beauty. He feels that the virginal characteristic of the untouched prairie is important and ought to be respected.

Irving and Bryant offer two admiring views of the prairies. While they may differ in the author’s feeling toward the prairies, in comparison to the rest of nature, it is easy to see that each writer speaks with great esteem on the many unique qualities of the prairies. To Irving, the prairies represents a place of unfamiliarity and solitude; a place in which a man may lose himself in the strangeness of it all. In contrast, Bryant supports the view that the prairie is unlike any other part of nature and that it ought to be respected in its strange power. For the audience these two viewpoints offer diverse looks into, what was, a newly discovered part of America. Each author provides an unbiased opinion of what they have seen, leaving the reader to settle on an opinion themselves.


Irving, Washington. A Tour on the Prairies. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 3-9, 30-34, 39-46, 50-54, 171-179. pub. University of Oklahoma Press 1956

Bryant, William Cullen. Yale Book of American Verse. Ch./Art: The Prairies p. 1-4 as reprinted. pub. Yale University Press; Bartleby.com 1912; 1999.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bhough on September 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    I think it is interesting how you ended your blog post- “Each author provides an unbiased opinion of what they have seen, leaving the reader to settle on an opinion themselves;” Bryant is clearly in awe of the landscape he is encountering, as can be seen throughout the poem, especially in the line that states “fitting floor for this magnificent temple of the sky- with flowers whose glory and whose multitude rival the constellations!” While I believe Bryant did aim to let his readers make an opinion of their own (he even states in the third line that “the speech of England has no name” for the beauty of the prairies), I also think it is difficult for any reader to not share Bryant’s awe-struck reaction to the prairie landscape. Even a positive reaction from the author alters the reader’s ideas of the prairie and how this aspect of nature should be viewed.

    Bryant, William Cullen. Yale Book of American Verse. Ch./Art: The Prairies p. 1-4 as reprinted. pub. Yale University Press; Bartleby.com 1912; 1999.

  2. Posted by kbudd on September 14, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    While Bryant’s view of the prairie administers joy and an “awe-struck” reaction the prairies, he still believes each person has the ability to formulate their own opinions. Bryant wants to express to his readers the beauty of the prairies, but he does not tell readers how to react to the scene.

    Irving also does this by saying, “It is a simple narrative I of every day occurrences; such as happen to every one who travels the prairies,” (Irving 9). He speaks of the “Far West” as a “small portion” of his journey, but it is obviously important because he writes an extensive narrative on his travels. He wants readers to appreciate the landscape discussed and come to their own conclusions, using his work as a foundation.

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