Volume I begins with a generous selection of Native American materials, then spans the years from the establishment of the American colonies to about 1900, a world on the brink of World War I and the modern era. Part One focuses on poetry from the very beginnings through the end of the eighteenth century. The expansion and development of a newly forged nation engendered new kinds of poetry. Part Two includes works from the early nineteenth century through the time of the Civil War. The poems in Part Three reflect the many issues affecting a nation undergoing tumultuous change: the Civil War, immigration, urbanization, industrialization, and cultural diversification.
Such well-recognized names as Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor, Phillis Wheatley, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Stephen Crane appear in this anthology alongside such less frequently anthologized poets as George Horton, Sarah Helen Whitman, Elizabeth Oakes-Smith, Frances Harper, Rose Terry Cooke, Helen Hunt Jackson, Adah Menken, Sarah Piatt, Ina Coolbrith, Emma Lazarus, Albery Whitman, Owl Woman (Juana Manwell) Sadakichi Hartmann, Ernest Fenollosa, James Weldon Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and—virtually unknown as a poet—Abraham Lincoln. It also includes poems and songs reflecting the experiences of a variety of racial and ethnic groups.