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Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Born: February 27, 1807
Portland, Maine
Died: March 24, 1882
Cambridge, Massachusetts

American poet

The sentimental (appealing to the emotions) poems of the American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made him an extremely popular author at home and in other countries in the nineteenth century.

Early life

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine, on February 27, 1807, into an established New England family. As the son of a prominent lawyer, Henry was expected to have a similar profession as an adult. He attended Portland Academy and then Bowdoin College, in Maine, graduating in 1825. He was an excellent student whose skill in learning foreign languages led the trustees (persons appointed to administer the affairs of an institution) at Bowdoin (of which his father was one) to offer the young graduate a professorship of modern languages. He prepared himself further with study abroad (in Europe), at his own expense, before undertaking his duties. When he started his new position he had to create his own textbooks, because the study of modern languages was such a new field.

Young writer

During Longfellow's three years in Europe his lifelong harmony with Old World (European) civilization was firmly established. He returned home in 1829 and two years later married Mary Storer Potter. In 1833 he published Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage beyond the Sea, a collection of picturesque (forming a pleasing picture) travel essays modeled after Washington Irving's (17831859) Sketch Book.

In 1834 Longfellow accepted a professorship at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He did not start his new job until 1837, after he had completed a tour of European and Scandinavian (northern European) countries. During this trip his wife died. While staying at Heidelberg, Germany, he came under the spell of the works of the German romantic poet Novalis (17721801). Novalis's moody, mystical (pertaining to a spiritual event) nocturnalism (pertaining to the night) struck a responsive chord in the grieving Longfellow.

In 1839 Longfellow published the sentimental prose romance Hyperion and his first volume of poetry, Voices of the Night. In Hyperion he rather indiscreetly (lacking sound judgment) told the story of his courtship of Frances Appleton, whom he had met in Europe soon after his wife's death. They were married in 1843. Her father, a wealthy Boston, Massachusetts, merchant, gave them Craigie House as a wedding present. This house became a famous visiting place for Longfellow's admirers. It is now called Longfellow House and is a national historic site. It holds most of the original furnishings from Longfellow's time, including his personal library of over ten thousand books.

Early poetry

Longfellow's poem "Hymn to the Night," in Voices of the Night, conveys the poet's debt to Novalis and his romantic kinship with the "calm, majestic presence of the Night." However, "A Psalm of Life," one of the best-known poems from this first volume, reflects the influence of the famed German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (17491832). His forceful philosophy suggested to Longfellow the direction of his hymn to action: "Life is real! Life is earnest! / Be not like dumb, driven cattle! / Be a hero in the strife." Voices of the Night was well received, and within a few years forty-three thousand copies had been sold. Longfellow's audience as a popular writer was assured.

Longfellow's next volume, Ballads and Other Poems (1842), contained two strong narrative poems, "The Wreck of the Hesperus" and "The Skeleton in Armor," as well as the sentimental verses "Maidenhood" and "The Rainy Day" ("Into each life some rain must fall, / Some days must be dark and dreary") and the moralizing (explaining in the sense of right and wrong) poem "The Village Blacksmith."

After a trip to Europe in 1842 Longfellow published Poems on Slavery (1842) and The Spanish Student: A Play in Three Acts (1843). In 1845 two volumes of poetry appeared: the anthology (a series of chosen literary pieces) The Waif, to which Longfellow contributed the poem "The Day Is Done"; and The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems. Several poems in this second collection reflect Longfellow's deep attachment to the traditions of European culture. In addition, this volume contained the popular "The Old Clock on the Stairs," "The Arrow and the Song," "The Arsenal at Springfield," "The Bridge," and one of his best sonnets (traditional, fourteen-line poems), "Mezzo Cammin."

Epic poems

Longfellow wrote several epic poems. An epic poem is a long poem that tells a story, typically about a hero, and centers on uncommon achievements and events. He achieved a national reputation with the publication of Evangeline (1847), a highly sentimental narrative poem on the expulsion (driving out) of the French from Acadia. He wrote Evangeline in dactylic hexameters. Dactyls are poetic feet of three syllables, with the first syllable long or accented and the others short or unaccented. Hexameters are verses having six poetic feet. The book was enthusiastically received.

Longfellow next released the unimaginative romantic novel Kavanagh (1849) and By the Seaside and the Fireside (1850), which contained the very popular nationalistic (designed to arouse pride in one's country) poem "The Building of the Ship": "Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State! / Sail on, O UNION, strong and great!"

In 1854 Longfellow resigned his Harvard professorship to devote himself to his writing career. A year later he published The Song of Hiawatha, a narrative epic poem on the Native American. For this work Longfellow drew on Henry Schoolcraft's books on Native Americans. He wrote in trochees or poetic feet of two syllables, the first long or accented and the second short or unaccented. In short order, he repeated the success of Hiawatha with The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858).

Major projects in later years

Following the tragic death of Longfellow's second wife in a fire in their home in 1861, he busied himself with the Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), in which various speakers, sitting around a fireplace, narrate stories. Other tales appeared in 1872 and 1873. Longfellow also translated poetry from eighteen languages. His most significant translation, published in 1867, was of a long poem by the medieval writer Dante Alighieri (12651321) called the Divine Comedy.

In the last phase of Longfellow's long career, he worked on another major project, The Christus: A Mystery. Completed in 1872, this work was concerned with "various aspects of Christendom in the Apostolic, Middle, and Modern Ages." The work came in three parts. An earlier work, The Golden Legend (1851), formed part II; part III, The New England Tragedies (1868), dealt with Puritan (a religious group in New England that stressed a strict moral code) themes; and, finally, part I, The Divine Tragedy (1871), concerned the life of Jesus Christ.

Several more volumes of Longfellow's verse were issued before his death on March 24, 1882, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After his death, he became the first American whose bust (sculpture of one's head) was placed in the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, London, England.

To the modern reader, Longfellow's sentimental and optimistic poetry often sounds old-fashioned. He used his wide knowledge of the literature of other countries as a source for both the form and content of many of his poems. Several of his poems are set in other countries including Italy, Spain, France, and Norway. It should be remembered that Longfellow wrote for the common man. In his elegant and clear style he presented popular American values, such as the family circle and heroism.

For More Information

Arvin, Newton. Longfellow: His Life and Work. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963.

Carpenter, George Rice. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1901. Reprint, Philadelphia: R. West, 1978.

Lukes, Bonnie L. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: America's Beloved Poet. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Raynolds, 1998.

Thompson, Lawrance. Young Longfellow, 18071843. New York: Macmillan, 1938.

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"Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/longfellow-henry-wadsworth

"Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/longfellow-henry-wadsworth

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The insistent moral tone, sentimentality, and serene idealism of the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) made him an extremely popular author at home and abroad in the 19th century.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine, on Feb. 27, 1807, of an established New England family. He attended Portland Academy and then Bowdoin College, graduating in 1825. He was an excellent student whose skill in languages led the trustees at Bowdoin (of which his father was one) to offer the young graduate a professorship of modern languages. He prepared himself further with study abroad (at his own expense) before undertaking his duties.

Young Writer

During Longfellow's 3 years in Europe his lifelong rapport with Old World civilization was firmly established. He returned home in 1829 and 2 years later married Mary Storer Potter. In 1833 he published Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage beyond the Sea, a collection of picturesque travel essays modeled after Washington Irving's Sketch Book.

In 1834 Longfellow accepted a professorship at Harvard but did not take up his duties until 1837, after he had completed a tour of European and Scandinavian countries. During this trip his wife died. While staying at Heidelberg, he came under the spell of the works of the German romantic poet Novalis, whose moody, mystical nocturnalism struck a responsive chord in the grieving Longfellow. On his return to Cambridge he settled in Craigie House.

In 1839 Longfellow published the sentimental prose romance Hyperion and his first volume of poetry, Voices of the Night. In Hyperion he rather indiscreetly told the story of his pursuit of Frances Appleton, whom he had met in Europe soon after his wife's death. In 1843, after a 7-year courtship, they were married. Her father, a wealthy Boston merchant, gave them Craigie House as a wedding present. This house became a famous visiting place for Longfellow's admirers.

Early Poetry

The poem "Hymn to the Night, " in Voices of the Night, conveys Longfellow's debt to Novalis and his romantic kinship with the "calm, majestic presence of the Night." However, "A Psalm of Life, " one of the best-known poems from this first volume, reflects the influence of the famed German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose dynamic philosophy suggested to Longfellow the direction of his rather moralizing and trite hymn to action: "Life is real! Life is earnest!/… Be not like dumb, driven cattle!/Be a hero in the strife." Voices of the Night was well received, and within a few years 43, 000 copies had been sold. Long-fellow's audience as a popular writer was assured.

Longfellow's next volume, Ballads and Other Poems (1842), contained two strong narrative poems, "The Wreck of the Hesperus" and "The Skeleton in Armor, " as well as the sentimental verses "Maidenhood" and "The Rainy Day" ("Into each life some rain must fall, / Some days must be dark and dreary") and the moralizing poem "The Village Blacksmith."

After a trip to Europe in 1842 Longfellow published Poems on Slavery (1842) and The Spanish Student: A Play in Three Acts (1843). In 1845 two volumes of poetry appeared: the anthology The Waif, to which Longfellow contributed the poem "The Day Is Done, " and The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems. Several poems in this second collection reflect Longfellow's deep attachment to the traditions of Old World culture. In addition, this volume contained the popular "The Old Clock on the Stairs, " "The Arrow and the Song, " "The Arsenal at Springfield, " "The Bridge, " and one of his best sonnets, "Mezzo Cammin."

Epic Poems

Longfellow achieved a national reputation with the publication of Evangeline (1847), a highly sentimental narrative poem on the expulsion of the French from Acadia. He wrote Evangeline in dactylic hexameters, a meter which in English tends toward monotony and prosiness. Nevertheless, the book was enthusiastically received. Next came the pedestrian romantic novel Kavanagh (1849) and By the Seaside and the Fireside (1850), which contained the very popular nationalistic poem "The Building of the Ship": "Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!/ Sail on, O UNION, strong and great!"

In 1854 Longfellow resigned his Harvard professorship to devote himself to his writing career. A year later he published The Song of Hiawatha, a narrative epic poem on the Native American. For this work Longfellow drew on Henry Schoolcraft's books on the Native American; he borrowed the trochaic meter from a Finnish epic. In short order, he repeated the success of Hiawatha with The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858).

Major Projects in Later Years

Following the tragic death of his second wife in a fire in their home in 1861, Longfellow busied himself with the Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), in which various speakers, sitting around a fireplace, narrate stories. Other tales appeared in 1872 and 1873. He also completed a major project, his translation of Dante's Divine Comedy (1865-1867).

In the last phase of his long career, Longfellow worked on another major project, The Christus: A Mystery. Completed in 1872, this work was concerned with" various aspects of Christendom in the Apostolic, Middle, and Modern Ages." An earlier work, The Golden Legend (1851), formed part II; part III, The New England Tragedies (1868), dealt with Puritan themes; and, finally, part I, The Divine Tragedy (1871), concerned the life of Christ. Several more volumes of verse were issued before his death on March 24, 1882.

Further Reading

The standard one-volume edition of The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was edited by H. E. Scudder (1893). The standard biography is by the poet's brother, Samuel Longfellow, Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with Extracts from His Journals and Correspondence (2 vols., 1886). Another useful biography is Edward Charles Wagenknecht, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: A Full-length Portrait (1955). The first half of Cecil B. Williams, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1968), is biographical, and the second half critically examines the prose and poetry.

Important studies of Longfellow are James Taft Hatfield, New Light on Longfellow, with Special Reference to His Relations to Germany (1933); Lawrence Thompson, Young Longfellow, 1807-1843 (1938); and Newton Arvin, Longfellow: His Life and Work (1963). Odell Shepard's introduction to Representative Selections (1934) is excellent, as is Gay Wilson Allen's chapter on Longfellow's poetic techniques in American Prosody (1935). Recommended for general background are Roy Harvey Pearce, The Continuity of American Poetry (1961), and Hyatt H. Waggoner, American Poets: From the Puritans to the Present (1968). □

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Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807–82, American poet, b. Portland, Maine, grad. Bowdoin College, 1825. He wrote some of the most popular poems in American literature, in which he created a new body of romantic American legends. Descended from an established New England family, after college he spent the next three years in Europe, preparing himself for a professorship of modern languages at Bowdoin, where he taught from 1829 to 1835. After the death of his young wife in 1835, Longfellow traveled again to Europe, where he met Frances Appleton, who was to become his second wife after a long courtship. She was the model for the heroine of his prose romance, Hyperion (1839). From 1836 to 1854, Longfellow was professor of modern languages at Harvard, and during these years he became one of an intellectual triumvirate that included Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell. Although a sympathetic and ethical person, Longfellow was uninvolved in the compelling religious and social issues of his time; he did, however, display interest in the abolitionist cause. He achieved great fame with long narrative poems such as Evangeline (1847), The Song of Hiawatha (1855), The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858), and Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), which included "Paul Revere's Ride." In all of these works he used unusual, "antique" rhythms to weave myths of the American past. His best-known shorter poems include "The Village Blacksmith," "Excelsior," "The Wreck of the Hesperus," "A Psalm of Life," and "A Cross of Snow." Although he was highly praised and successful in his lifetime, Longfellow's literary reputation has declined in the 20th cent. His unorthodox meters, while contributing to the unique effects of his poems, have been much parodied, and many critics have viewed harshly his simple, sentimental, often moralizing verse. Longfellow made a poetic translation of Dante's Divine Comedy (1867), for which he wrote a sequence of six outstanding sonnets. After his death, he was the first American whose bust was placed in the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

See his letters (ed. by A. Hilen, 4 vol., 1967–72); biographies by his brother, Samuel (3 vol., 1891; repr. 1969), T. W. Higginson (1902, repr. 1973), and N. Arvin (1963); studies by C. B. Williams (1964) and E. C. Wagenknecht (1986).

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"Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/longfellow-henry-wadsworth

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth (1807–82) US poet. Longfellow's escapist poetry was extremely successful in his lifetime. He is best known for his long narrative poems, such as Evangeline (1847), The Song of Hiawatha (1855), The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858), and Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), which includes “Paul Revere's Ride”. Influenced by European Romanticism, Longfellow combined archaic rhythms to enliven American mythology. Ballads and Other Poems (1842) contains two of his most popular shorter poems, “The Wreck of the Hesperus” and “The Village Blacksmith”.

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