Drake was part of a first generation of American poets who mostly tried to emulate British writers, usually with excessively didactic purposes. Yet, that same first generation recognized a need to break away thematically from European traditions. A conversation on the idea between Drake, Halleck, and James Fenimore Cooper led to "The Culprit Fay."
The poem, which does not feature a single human character, explores the American scenery: Drake set the poem mostly in the lands surrounding the Hudson River. It is a lengthy poem which deviates which uses an ever-changing metric structure. The end result of three days writing, A fantastic mix of nature and mythology, "The Culprit Fay" is an interesting exploration of early American poetry:
'Tis the middle watch of a summer's night
The earth is dark, but the heavens are bright;
Naught is seen in the vault on high
But the moon, and the stars, and the cloudless sky,
And the flood which rolls its milky hue,
A river of light on the welkin blue...
The stars are on the moving stream,
And fling, as its ripples gently flow,
A burnished length of wavy beam
In an eel-like, spiral line below;
The winds are whist, and the owl is still;
The bat in the shelvy rock is hid;
And naught is heard on the lonely hill
But the cricket's chirp, and the answer shrill
Of the gauze-winged katydid;
And the plaint of the wailing whippoorwill,
Who moans unseen and ceaseless sings,
Ever a note of wail and woe...
The poem then introduces a series of fantasy creatures, including elves and fairies (one wears an acorn for a helmet)... and more:
The goblin marked his monach well;
He spake not, but he bowed him low,
Then plucked a crimson colen-bell,
And turned him round in act to go.
The way is long; he cannot fly;
His soiled wing has lost its power,
And he winds adown the mountain high
For many a sore and weary hour.
Drake was only 25 years old when he died in 1820.