Language of the Land: Journeys Into Literary America

EXHIBITION SECTIONS: Introduction - Northeast - South - Midwest - West

The Northeast

Native American The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their land-deeds give them no title.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Although it is the smallest region featured in Language of the Land, the Northeast has deep literary roots, reaching back to New England's seventeenth-century Puritan writers. Many of America's best-known authors have come from the region and have celebrated its immense geographic and cultural variety and great natural beauty. Within a short distance of each other lie Vermont and New Hampshire's mountains, Pennsylvania's rolling hills, New York's lakes, ponds and forests, Massachusetts's salt marshes and sand dunes, and Maine's rocky coastlines, as well as the important urban centers of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. All have produced major literary voices.

Also connected with the region are unforgettable characters: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Iroquois warrior Hiawatha, based on a legendary Native American hero; Herman Melville's Captain Ahab, relentlessly pursuing vengeance on the Great White Whale who injured him; and E.B. White's spider Charlotte and pig Wilbur, whose adventures in rural Vermont have delighted several generations of children.

[Scenery between Gorham and
Shelburne] Scenery between Gorham and Shelburne New Hampshire,
ca. 1940
FSA-OWI Collection
Prints & Photographs Division (12a)
Across wild country on solitary roads
Within a fugue of parting, I was consoled
By birches' sovereign whiteness in sad woods,
Dark glow of pines, a single elm's distinction--
I was consoled by trees.

May Sarton, "All Day I Was With Trees"

[Franconia Notch Village, New
Hampshire] Franconia Notch Village, New Hampshire
ca. 1900
Prints & Photographs Division (13)
My route went north in Vermont and then east in New Hampshire in the White Mountains. . . . The villages are the prettiest . . . in the whole nation, neat and white-painted and . . . unchanged for a hundred years except for traffic and paved streets.

John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley

[Delaware Water Gap from New
Jersey] Delaware Water Gap from New Jersey
Detroit: Detroit Publishing Company, ca. 1900
Prints & Photographs Division (14)
One [tour] was labelled "The Scenic Route," and showed a broad black line extending from New York via the Water Gap, Stroudsburg, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Binghamton, . . . Buffalo, and Niagara Falls. This interested me. . . . Visions of green hills, deep valleys, winding rivers, glistering cataracts and the like leaped before my eyes.

Theodore Dreiser, Hoosier Holiday

The Last of the Mohicans The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
Ken Riley, Illustrator
Cleveland: Harris-Intertype, 1963
Geography & Map Division (162)
He [Natty Bumppo or Hawkeye] wore a hunting shirt of forest green, fringed with faded yellow, and a summer cap of skins which had been shorn of their fur. He also bore a knife in a girdle of wampum. . . . His moccasins were ornamented after the gay fashion of the natives, while the only part of his underdress which appeared below the hunting frock was a pair of buckskin leggings that laced at the sides. . . . A pouch and horn completed his personal accouterments, though a rifle of great length leaned against a neighboring sapling. . . . His countenance . . . was charged with an expression of sturdy honesty.

James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans

The Voyage of the Pequod from the Book
Moby Dick The Voyage of the Pequod from the Book Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Everett Henry, Illustrator
Cleveland: Harris-Seybold, 1956
Geography & Map Division (17)
It was Moby Dick that dismasted me; Moby Dick that brought me to this dead stump I stand on was that accursed white whale that razed . . . . me and I'll chase him around Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up.

Captain Ahab in Herman Melville, Moby Dick

[Boats at Nantucket Island,
Massachusetts] Boats at Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
Prints & Photographs Division (19)
Nantucket! Take out your maps and look at it! See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse. Look at it a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background. There is more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Literary Map of Pennsylvania Literary Map of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English, 1965
Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English
Geography & Map Division (20)
The quick dim doublets of sound like butterflies winged toward us close to the earth, skimming the feathery crust rather than risking a plunge upward into the steep smooth dome that capped a space of Pennsylvania a hundred miles wide. From the spot where the lower road led off from the upper we could see on a clear day to the first blue beginnings of the Alleghenies.

John Updike, The Centaur

A Literary Map of New Jersey A Literary Map of New Jersey
Moorestown: Moorestown Women's Club, 1927
Geography & Map Division (21)
Paterson lies on the valley under the Passaic Falls
its spent waters forming the outline of his back.
He lies on his right side, head near the thunder of the water filling his dreams!

William Carlos Williams, Paterson

Maine Writers Maine Writers
Ruth Rhoads Lepper, Mapmaker
Maine Council of Teachers of English, 1977
Copyright 1981, Maine Council for English Language Arts. Used by permission
Geography & Map Division (22)
On the coast of Maine, where many green islands and salt inlets fringe the deep-cut shoreline stood a small house facing the morning light. All the weather-beaten houses of that region face the sea apprehensively, like the women who live in them.

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

The Literary Map of New York The Literary Map of New York
Linda Ayriss, Illustrator
Los Angeles: Aaron Blake, 1988
Courtesy of Molly Maguire and Aaron Silverman
Geography & Map Division (23)
Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

[Back or 340 East 63rd Street, New
York] Back of 340 East 63rd Street, New York
ca. 1938
Sheldon Dick, Photographer
Gelatin-silver print
FSA-OWI Collection
Prints & Photographs Division (24)
So we drove along, between the green of the park and the stony lifeless elegance of hotels and apartment buildings, toward the vivid, killing streets of our childhood. These streets hadn't changed, though housing projects jutted up out of them now like rocks in the middle of a boiling sea. . . . boys exactly like the boys we once had been found themselves smothering in these houses, came down into the streets for light and air, and found themselves encircled by disaster. Some escaped the trap, most didn't. Those who got out always left something of themselves behind. . . .

James Baldwin, Sonny's Blues

[northeast view from the empire
state building] Northeast View from the Empire State Building
ca. 1931 William France, Photographer
Prints & Photographs Division (25)
But, ah! Manhattan's sights and sounds, her smells,
Her crowds, her throbbing voice, the thrill that comes
From being of her a part, her subtle spells,
Her shimmering towers, her avenues, her slums--

James Weldon Johnson, "My City"

[Across the Common, Boston] Across the Common, Boston
Detroit: Detroit Publishing Company, ca. 1906
Prints & Photographs Division (26)
Boston State-House is the hub of the solar system. You couldn't pry that out of a Boston man if you had the tire of all creation straightened out for a crowbar.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

[The Presidential range of the
White Mountains] The Presidential range of the White Mountains
March 1940
Marion Post Wolcott, Photographer
Prints & Photographs Division (27)
If I must choose which I would elevate
The people or the already lofty mountains.
I'd elevate the already lofty mountains.
The only fault I find with old New Hampshire
Is that her mountains aren't quite high enough.

Robert Frost, "New Hampshire"

[Thoreau's Cove, Walden, Concord,
Massachusetts] Thoreau's Cove, Walden, Concord, Massachusetts
Detroit: Detroit Publishing Company, ca. 1900
Prints & Photographs Division (28)
Whenever I looked out on the pond it impressed me like a tarn high up on the side of a mountain, its bottom far above the surface of other lakes, and, as the sun arose, I saw it throwing off its nightly clothing of mist, and here and there, by degree, its soft ripples or its smooth reflecting surface was revealed while the mists, like ghosts, were stealthily withdrawing in every direction into the woods, as at the breaking up of some nocturnal conventicle.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

EXHIBITION SECTIONS: Introduction - Northeast - South - Midwest - West

Go to:
Library of Congress
Contact Us (11/04/99)