THE VERY BEGINNING
From the beginning America was unique in the diversity of its inhabitants arrived from all parts of the world. Although English quickly became the language of America, regional and ethnic dialects had enriched the country’s literature almost from the start.
When European explorers first North America, Native American cultures had rich, legends, folktales, myths about the beginnings of the universe and of humankind.and other forms of literature preserved in oral form and passed down from generation to generation. Much of this literature disappeared with the destruction of Native American cultures that followed white settlements of the continent.
From the beginning until the 19th century American poetry took inspiration from works written in British. They were set in a new physical environment and took into account the evolving culture of the colonies.
Puritans who settled in New England were the first poets of the American colonies. For most of them poetry is the literary form that allowed pious believers to express, with God’s help, divine lessons. Puritan poets grew up in England during a period when Christian epic poetry (Paradise Lost, 1667 by John Milton), was considered the highest literary achievement. When they came to America they maintained their cultural faithfulness to Britain.
Anne Bradstreet (1612-72) came to Massachusetts from Britain at the age 18 and. was the first poet in America to publish a volume of poetry; The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, published in England in 1650. The poems, even if imitations of British forms and themes, reveal her attraction to the new world, and the problems he met while facing a new life and the wilderness. Further, she showed early ideas of female reaction to women situation (The Prologue, 1650).
Edward Taylor (1642-1729), wrote powerful meditative poems inspired by poets George Herbert and John Donne.. In God’s Determinations Touching His Elect (1680?), he celebrates God’s power in the triumph of good over evil in the human soul.
Poetry for Puritans was mainly read family and closest friends. Whereas public poetry was more didactic or instructive in nature and often involved the transformation into verse of important biblical lessons that guided Puritan belief.
Other great inspirers for poetry were Alexander Pope and Ambrose Philips, both masters of pastoral and of satirical verse. Initially, this satiric tone was more prevalent in the southern colonies than in New England.
Two poets from the Maryland Colony, Ebenezer Cook and Richard Lewis, wrote accomplished satirical poems in which they mock British pastoral models..
Long before settlers arrived in America, explorers reported on their voyages to the continent. The earliest literature about America consists of impressions of America recorded by European explorers after they returned home.
The writings of the explorer Captain John Smith (A Description of New England ,1616) are the first account that deals both with the terrors of the unknown, and with sense of novelty in front of the new land and people.
Another important historian of early America was Thomas Morton, whose New English Canaan (1634-1635) used humour in portraying what he considered being the intolerant qualities of the Puritans.
Sermons and other religious writings dominated literature in America in the 1600s. Histories of early America, especially in New England, were filled with references to the Bible and to God’s will.
Increase Mather, a prominent theologians, wrote a history of the first conflict between Native Americans and colonial settlers. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God … A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson (1682) is an account by a colonist who was taken captive by Narragansett Indians during King Philip’s War.
This story became the model for a new genre, the captivity narratives, and provides material for American fiction.
The Salem witch trials of 1692 was another dark period in early American history: in a Massachusetts town 14 women and 6 men were executed for witchcraft. One of the most famous report of these facts, Cotton Mather’s Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions (1689), indicates a growing interest in the occult on the part of religious leaders.
As the settlements were sparse and living conditions were arduous in the American colonies, little theatrical activity took place before the mid-18th century.
The first-known English-language play from the colonies, Ye Bare and Ye Cubb (1665), is lost. The play’s existence is known because of the controversy in the Virginia Colony, where the play was not performed due to the strict puritan laws against stage