Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth 1807-1882
Henry Wadsworth LongfellowINTRODUCTION
American poet, novelist, translator, playwright, and travel writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Long-fellow's career through 2004.
Widely admired by his contemporaries, Longfellow achieved a degree of popularity in his day that no other American poet before or since has matched. His nostalgic, inspirational verse was embraced by Americans and Europeans enduring an era of rapid social change. Shortly after his death, however, his reputation suffered a serious decline. Although the debate over his literary stature continues, Longfellow is widely credited with having been instrumental in introducing European culture to the American readers of his day. Moreover, he simultaneously popularized American folk themes abroad, where his poetry enjoyed an immense readership. Though many of Long-fellow's poems have become canonical works in American classrooms, The Song of Hiawatha (1855) and "Paul Revere's Ride" have been particularly embraced by younger audiences, inspiring numerous picture book adaptations of both works.
Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine, to Stephen Longfellow, a lawyer and member of the Eighteenth Congress of the United States, and Zilpah Wadsworth, whose ancestors had arrived on the Mayflower. In 1822 he enrolled in the newly formed Bowdoin College, of which his father was a trustee. Despite his father's wish that he study law, Longfellow preferred a literary career and began publishing poems in numerous newspapers and periodicals. Before graduation, he took an extended trip to Europe; this journey greatly influenced his future work, evidenced in a unique blend of both American and foreign elements in his later writings. After three years in Europe, he returned as a professor to Bowdoin and soon published Outre-Mer; A
Pilgrimage beyond the Sea (1833), a book of travel sketches modeled on Washington Irving's Sketch-Book. Longfellow later accepted a position at Harvard as the Smith Professor of Modern Languages, a post he held for eighteen years. During this time, he again traveled to Europe and discovered the works of the German Romantic poets. He subsequently incorporated much of their artistic philosophy into his work. After returning and settling in Cambridge, he developed lasting friendships with such American literary figures as Charles Sumner, Washington Allston, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Devoting himself to scholarly pursuits as well as to poetry, Longfellow published textbooks, literary essays, and numerous translations of European poets. Longfellow's final years were filled with accolades. He received honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge, was invited to meet Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales, and was made a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Spanish Academy. Statues were erected to him, and schools were named after him. When the "spreading chestnut tree" he memorialized in the poem "The Village Blacksmith" had to be cut down, the children of Cambridge raised money to have a chair made from it and presented it to him. Longfellow died shortly after his seventy-fifth birthday in 1882. He is the only American poet honored with a bust in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Voices of the Night (1839) illustrates Longfellow's view that poetry should be "an instrument for improving the condition of society, and advancing the great purpose of human happiness." Voices is distinguished by such poems as "Psalm of Life" and "Light of the Stars," popular inspirational pieces characterized by simple truths and maxims. The poems in this and such subsequent early collections as Ballads and Other Poems (1842) and The Seaside and the Fireside (1850) generally conclude with didactic or romanticized expressions of the poet's religious faith, balancing or, according to many critics, at times awkwardly undermining the nostalgic melancholic reflections on life's transience that inform many of his finest poems.
The longer narrative works for which Longfellow is best remembered—Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie (1847), The Song of Hiawatha, and Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863)—address American themes and subjects, often providing vivid descriptions of the American landscape that appealed greatly to readers worldwide. Evangeline, written in classical dactylic hexameter and praised for both its lyrical grace and poignant storyline, relates the tale of two lovers separated during the French and Indian War. After touring America futilely in search of her exiled bridegroom, the eponymous heroine is reunited with him momentarily at his hospital deathbed. The Song of Hiawatha, praised upon publication as the great American epic, grafts source material from Native American mythology onto the meter and plot structure of the Finnish folk epic Kalevala. The poem narrates the life story of the famous Native American Hiawatha—raised by his grandmother Nokomis, loved by the beautiful Minnehaha—and the changes brought about by the coming of Europeans to North America. Longfellow exults Hiawatha as a superman and savior, describing how Hiawatha led his people to peace, invented the birch canoe and picture writing, and journeyed west to convert Native Americans to Christianity. The Song of Hiawatha is reflective of the social opinions of the era, which regarded Native Americans as noble savages who greatly benefited from European generosity. Tales of a Wayside Inn, a series of narrative poems reminiscent of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, is perhaps the best example of Longfellow's versatility and mastery of the narrative form. The poems comprising this work, including one of Longfellow's most famous—"Paul Revere's Ride"—are highly regarded for their plots, characterizations, and intimate atmosphere. David Hackett Fischer noted the particular impact that "Paul Revere's Ride" had on American readers, commenting that, "[t]he insistent beat of Longfellow's meter reverberated though the North like a drum roll. It instantly captured the imagination of the reading public; this was a call to arms for a new American generation, in another moment of peril. It was also an argument, from Paul Revere's example, that one man alone could make a difference, by his service to a great and noble cause." In addition to these narrative poems, Longfellow published what he considered his masterpiece—a trilogy of dramatic poems, "The Golden Legend," "The New England Tragedies," and "The Divine Tragedy," collected in a volume titled Christus: A Mystery (1872). This work examines the subject of Christianity from its beginnings through the Middle Ages to the time of the American Puritans. While acknowledging that these works contain beautiful and effective writing, critics generally agree that Longfellow's creative gift was poetic rather than dramatic, and that the scope of this particular work was beyond his range.
During his lifetime, Longfellow was immensely popular and widely admired. He was the first American poet to gain a favorable international reputation, and his poetry was praised abroad by such eminent authors as Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Alfred Tennyson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Walt Whitman. In 1884, two years after his death, his bust was unveiled in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey, making him the first American to be so honored. In the decades that followed, however, the idealism and sentimentality that characterize much of his verse fell out of favor with younger poets and critics who were beginning to embrace realism and naturalism. Longfellow's literary reputation further declined in the twentieth century with the advent of Modernism. Reviled as superficial and didactic, his poetry was largely dismissed and received little further critical attention. Some recent commentators, however, have found much to admire in Longfellow. He is often praised for his technical skill, particularly as demonstrated in his short lyrics and sonnets. He also continues to be regarded as a pioneer in adapting European literary traditions to American themes and subjects.
Outre-Mer; A Pilgrimage beyond the Sea. 2 vols. (travel sketches) 1833-1834
Hyperion, a romance. By the author of "Outre-Mer" (novel) 1839
Voices of the Night (poetry) 1839
Ballads and Other Poems (poetry) 1842
Poems on Slavery (poetry) 1842
The Spanish Student. A Play, in Three Acts (verse drama) 1843
Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie (narrative poetry) 1847
Kavanagh, A Tale (novel) 1849
The Seaside and the Fireside (poetry) 1850
The Golden Legend (verse drama) 1851
The Song of Hiawatha (narrative poetry) 1855
The Courtship of Miles Standish, and Other Poems (poetry) 1858
Prose Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Complete in Two Volumes. 2 vols. (narrative poetry) 1858
*Tales of a Wayside Inn (narrative poetry) 1863
Flower-de-Luce (poetry) 1867
The New England Tragedies … I. John Endicott; II. Giles Corey of Salem Farms (verse dramas) 1868
The Divine Tragedy (verse drama) 1871
Aftermath (poetry) 1872
†Christus: A Mystery. 3 vols. (verse dramas) 1872
Three Books of Song (poetry) 1872
The Hanging of the Crane (with illustrations) (poetry) 1875
The Masque of Pandora and Other Poems (poetry) 1875
Kéramos and Other Poems (poetry) 1878
Ultima Thule (poetry) 1880
In the Harbor, Ultima Thule, Part II (poetry) 1882
The Complete Writings of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 11 vols. (poetry, plays, novels, travel sketches, and translations) 1904
The Letters of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (letters) 1966
Poetry for Young People [illustrations by Charles Wallace] (poetry) 1999
*Includes the first book publication of "Paul Revere's Ride," which was originally published in The Atlantic in January 1861, and the first book publication of "The Children's Hour" (1860).
†Includes "The New England Tragedies," "The Divine Tragedy," and "The Golden Legend."
Brander Matthews (essay date April 1895)
SOURCE: Matthews, Brander. "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow." St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks (1873-1907) 22, no. 6 (April 1895): 468-70.
[In the following essay, Matthews presents an overview of Longfellow's life and career, focusing on such works as "Evangeline," "Hiawatha," and "The Courtship of Miles Standish."]
In the first ten years of the nineteenth century, there were born in New England five of the foremost authors of America. Emerson and Hawthorne were four and three years older than Longfellow. Whittier and Holmes were respectively ten months and two years younger. As they grew up and began to write, and got to know one another, these authors became friends; and their friendship lasted with their lives. One after another they all gained fame; and although not the greatest of the five, perhaps, Longfellow was always the most popular. Not merely in the United States and Great Britain, but in Canada and Australia and India, and wherever the English language is spoken, there were readers in plenty for the gentle, the manly, the beautiful verses of Longfellow.
His mother's father had been a general in the Revolutionary army. His mother's brother (after whom he was named) had been an officer in the American navy, losing his life in Preble's attack on Tripoli. His father, once a member of Congress, was one of the leading lawyers of Portland. And it was in that pleasant Maine city that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born, on February 27, 1807. There he passed his childhood. There he got that liking for the sea and for ships and for sailors which was to give a saltwater savor to so many of his ballads. There, as he grew to boyhood, he browsed amid the books of his father's ample library, feeling his love for literature steadily growing.
He was a school-boy of twelve when the first numbers of Irving's "Sketch-Book" appeared, and he read it "with ever-increasing wonder and delight, spellbound by its pleasant humor, its melancholy tenderness, its atmosphere of reverie." A few months before the "Sketch-Book" began, Bryant had published his "Thanatopsis," and others of his earlier poems followed soon; so the school-boy in Portland came under the influence of Bryant's poetry almost at the same time he felt the charm of Irving's prose. When he was only thirteen the young Longfellow began to write verses of his own, some of which were printed in the newspapers. He was only fourteen when he passed the entrance examinations of Bowdoin College, where he was to have Hawthorne as a classmate.
Long before his college course was over he had made up his mind to become a man of letters. In his last year at Bowdoin, being then eighteen, he wrote to his father: "I most eagerly aspire after future eminence in literature; my whole soul burns ardently for it, and every earthly thought centers in it." But here in America, in 1825, no man could hope to support himself by prose and verse. Fortunately just then a professorship of modern languages was founded in Bowdoin, and the position was offered to Longfellow, with permission to spend several years in Europe fitting himself for his duties. He accepted eagerly; and his sojourn in France and Spain, in Italy and Germany, made him master of the four great European languages with their marvelous literatures. He studied hard and wrote little while he was away. At last, in 1829, being then twenty-two, he returned to his native land and settled down to teach his fellow-countrymen what he had learned abroad.
In 1831 he married Miss Mary Potter. In addition to his work in the college, he found time to write critical articles on foreign literature. He seems to have had but few poetic impulses at this period; and his thoughts expressed themselves more naturally in prose. The influence of Irving is visible in a series of rambling travel-sketches, finally revised for publication as a book in 1833, under the title Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage beyond the Sea. It has not a little of the charm of the "Sketch-Book," with a deeper poetic grace of its own and a more romantic touch. The year after this first venture into literature, Longfellow was called to the professorship of modern languages at Harvard College. Again he went to Europe for further study, being absent for a year and a half; but his journey was saddened by the death of his wife.
Toward the end of 1836 he took up his abode in Cambridge, where he was to reside for the rest of his life—for forty-five years. He was made to feel at home in the society of the scholars who clustered about Harvard, then almost the sole center of culture in the country. His work for the college was not so exacting that he had not time for literature. The impulse to write poetry returned; yet the next book he published was the prose Hyperion , which appeared in 1839, and which, though it has little plot or action, may be called a romance. The youthful and poetic hero, a passionate pilgrim in Europe, was, more or less, a reflection of Longfellow himself. A few months later, in the same year, he published his first volume of poetry—Voices of the Night , in which he reprinted certain of his earlier verses, most of them written while he was at Bowdoin. Some of these boyish verses show the influence of Bryant, and others reveal to us that the young poet had not yet looked at life for himself, but still saw it through the stained-glass windows of European tradition. The same volume contained also some more recent poems: "The Beleaguered City," and "The Reaper and the Flowers," and the "Psalm of Life" —perhaps the first of his poems to win a swift and abiding popularity. These lyrics testified that Longfellow was beginning to have a style of his own. As Hawthorne wrote to him, "Nothing equal to them was ever written in this world—this western world, I mean."
Certainly no American author had yet written any poem of the kind so good as the best of those in Longfellow's volume of Ballads, printed two years later. Better than any other American poet Longfellow had mastered the difficulties of the story in song; and he knew how to combine the swiftness and the picturesqueness the ballad requires. His ballads have more of the old-time magic, more of the early simplicity, than those of any other modern English author. Of its kind, there is nothing better in the language than "The Skeleton in Armor," with its splendid lyric swing; and "The Village Blacksmith" and "The Wreck of the Hesperus" are almost as good in their humbler sphere. "Excelsior," in the same volume, voices the noble aspirations of youth, and has been taken to heart by thousands of boys and girls.
He went to Europe again in 1842 for his health; and on the voyage home he wrote eight "Poems on Slavery," which he published soon after he landed. The next year he married Miss Frances Appleton. About the same time he published The Spanish Student, a play not intended for the theater, and lacking the dramatic action the stage demands. Neither the "Poems on Slavery" nor The Spanish Student showed him at his best; but three years after the latter he published The Belfry of Bruges, in which were to be found more than one of his finest poems, among them "The Old Clock on the Stair" and "The Arsenal at Springfield."
Longfellow had not been intimate at college with his classmate Hawthorne, but he wrote a cordial review of Hawthorne's "Twice-Told Tales," and it was from Hawthorne that he heard the pathetic legend of the two Acadian lovers parted on their marriage morn, when the people of the French province were shipped away by the British authorities. "If you do not want this incident for a tale, let me have it for a poem," he said; and Hawthorne willingly gave it up. This was the germ of "Evangeline," which Longfellow published in 1847, and which was accepted at once as his masterpiece. It was the most beautiful and the most touching tale in verse yet told by any American poet; and its charm was increased greatly by the skill with which the natural scenery of America, and our varying seasons, were used to furnish a background before which the simple figures of the story moved with fidelity to life. Even the strange native names were invested with magic.
In 1849 Longfellow published his last prose book, Kavanagh, a dreamy tale which Hawthorne hailed as a true picture of life—"as true as those reflections of the trees and banks that I used to see in the Concord; but refined to a higher degree than they, as if the reflection were itself reflected." The next year he gathered into a volume called The Seaside and the Fireside a score of short poems, including "The Fire of Driftwood" and "The Building of the Ship." With the sea as a subject, Longfellow had always a double share of inspiration, for he had retained in manhood his boyish love for the deep, and his sympathetic understanding of its mysteries.
As his poetic powers ripened and won prompt recognition, the daily labor of the classroom became more irksome to him, and at last, in 1854, he resigned his professorship. But he continued to reside in Cambridge, dwelling in the Craigie House, which had been Washington's headquarters. Longfellow's father-in-law had bought the house for him, and it is now known as the Longfellow House. The cultivated society of the little town was very congenial, and he had many friends near in Boston and in Concord.
Like all true artists, he was greatly interested in his craft, and was fond of verse-making experiments. He had a delicate ear, and he felt the fitness of certain measures for certain themes. For "Evangeline" he chose a form of verse suggested by the verse of the "Iliad" and the "Æneid"; and how well this suited his subject can be seen by reading this description of the song of the mocking-bird:
Then from a neighboring thicket the mocking-bird, wildest of singers,
Swinging aloft on a willow spray that hung o'er the water,
Shook from his little throat such floods of delirious music,
That the whole air and the woods and the waves seemed silent to listen.
Plaintive at first were the tones and sad; then soaring to madness
Seemed they to follow or guide the revel of frenzied Bacchantes.
Single notes were then heard, in sorrowful low lamentation;
Till, having gathered them all, he flung them abroad in derision,
As when, after a storm, a gust of wind through the tree-tops
Shakes down the rattling rain in a crystal shower on the branches.
Now compare the same description as Longfellow himself rewrote it in the customary rhymed couplets:
Upon a spray that overhung the stream,
The mocking-bird, awaking from his dream,
Poured such delirious music from his throat
That all the air seemed listening to his note.
Plaintive at first the song began, and slow;
It breathed of sadness, and of pain and woe;
Then, gathering all his notes, abroad he flung
The multitudinous music from his tongue,—
As, after showers, a sudden gust again
Upon the leaves shakes down the rattling rain.
In his next long poem Longfellow attempted another new meter, borrowed from a Finnish poet. He was always interested in the American Indian, and one of his earliest poems was "The Burial of the Minne-sink," as one of his latest was "The Revenge of Rain-in-the-Face." He now decided that the mythical legends of the red men could be woven into a poem of which an Indian should be the central figure. The simple rhythm was exactly suited to the simple story. "Hiawatha" was published in 1853, and its instant success surpassed that of "Evangeline," which was its only rival among the longer poems of American authors upon a peculiarly American subject. The easy verses sang themselves into the memory of all who read the poem; and the descriptions of nature delighted all who had kept their eyes open as they walked through our American woods and fields.
Encouraged by the hearty welcome given to these two American poems, Longfellow, in 1858, published a third, "The Courtship of Miles Standish." In this he told no pathetic tale of parted lovers, nor did he draw on the quaint lore of the red men; he took his story from the annals of his own ancestors, the sturdy founders of New England. As it happened, he himself (like his fellow-poet, Bryant) was a direct descendant of John Alden and Priscilla, the Puritan maiden, whose wooing he narrated. "The Courtship of Miles Standish" is only less popular than its predecessors, "Evangeline" and "Hiawatha" ; all three have been taken to heart by the American people; all were composed during the brightest years of the poet's life, when his family were growing up about him, when he was in the full possession of his powers, and had already achieved fame.
Suddenly an awful calamity befel him in the death of his wife by accident. One sad day in July, 1861, Mrs. Longfellow's light dress caught fire from a match fallen on the floor. The poet rushed to her aid; but despite all his efforts, her injuries were fatal. She died the next morning. Longfellow himself was so severely burned that he was unable to be present at her funeral.
When his wounds healed he was still broken in spirit. To give himself occupation, and to help him bear his sorrow, he translated into English the "Divine Comedy" of Dante. He found the labor restful and consoling; and in time he completed his translation, which was published in 1867. But while laboring on this long task he had not given up original composition. In 1863 he had sent forth a volume of poems containing the ringing lines on the sinking of the "Cumberland"; and in 1867 another collection in which was included his touching poem on the burial of Hawthorne.
During these years also Longfellow was engaged on a work exactly suited to his powers. As a poet he was not primarily a thinker, like Emerson, nor was he chiefly a musician in verse, like Poe; he was above all a ballad-singer, a teller of stories fit to be said or sung. Certain of his friends were in the habit of spending the summer at the old tavern of Sudbury, and this suggested to the poet the framework of a book. He has represented a group of guests gathered about the fire, and beguiling the time with storytelling. The first part of these Tales of a Wayside Inn was published in 1863, and two other parts followed in 1872 and 1873. Among the tales are some of Long-fellow's best ballads,—such as "Paul Revere's Ride," "King Robert of Sicily," and "Scanderbeg."
In the spring of 1868 Longfellow went with his daughters to Europe, and received everywhere an admiring welcome. In England both Oxford and Cambridge conferred honorary degrees on him; and the Queen invited him to dine with her at Windsor Castle. He spent the winter in Rome, and came home in 1869.
After his return Longfellow took up and finished his longest work—Christus, A Mystery, in which he finally combined the "Divine Tragedy," the "Golden Legend," and the "New England Tragedies." His liking for the dramatic form grew in his later years; and the Masque of Pandora, which he published in 1875, was actually set to music and sung on the stage, but with little success. Afterward he wrote another tragedy—Judas Maccabæus ; and after his death yet another,Michael Angelo, was found almost finished in his desk. There are fine passages in all these poems in dialogue; but none of his attempts at play-making were received with the popular approval which greeted his songs and his sonnets.
Two of the longer of his later poems—the "Hanging of the Crane" (1874) and "Keramos" (1878)—showed that his hand had not lost its cunning as the poet grew older; and nothing he had written exceeded in sonorous rhythm and in lofty sentiment the poem which he read in 1875 at the fiftieth anniversary of his graduation from Bowdoin, and which he called "Morituri Salutamus" ("We who are about to die salute you"). His poetic gift continued to ripen and to bear mellow fruit to the end of his life; and among the lyrics in his final volumes—Ultima Thule, published in 1880, and In the Harbor, printed after his death in 1882—were poems as tender and as delicate in their strength as any he had written in his youth: "The Chamber over the Gate," for example, and the very last verses he ever wrote—"The Bells of San Blas."
It was on March 15, 1882, when Longfellow had just celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday, that he penned the final lines of this final poem:
Out of the shadows of the night
The world rolls into light.
It is daybreak everywhere.
The eighteenth was a Saturday; and in the afternoon there came four school-boys from Boston, who had asked permission to visit him. He showed them the view of the Charles from the window of his study, and with his customary kindness he wrote his autograph in their albums. That night he was seized with pain; but would not disturb the household until the morning. He lingered a week, and died on Friday, March 24, 1882. He was buried the next Sunday in Mount Auburn Cemetery, "under the gently falling snow."
Longfellow is the most popular poet yet born in America; and if we can measure popular approval by the wide-spread sale of his successive volumes, he was probably the most popular poet of the English language in this century. Part of his popularity is due to his healthy mind, his calm spirit, his vigorous sympathy. His thought, though often deep, was never obscure. His lyrics had always a grace that took the ear with delight. They have a singing simplicity, caught, it may be, from the German lyricists, such as Uhland or Heine. This simplicity was the result of rare artistic repression; it was not due to any poverty of intellect. Like Victor Hugo in France, Longfellow in America was the poet of childhood. And as he understood the children, so he also sympathized with the poor, the toiling, the lowly—not looking down on them, but glorifying their labor, and declaring the necessity of it and the nobility of work. He could make the barest life seem radiant with beauty. He had acquired the culture of all lands, but he understood also the message of his own country. He thought that the best that Europe could bring was none too good for the plain people of America. He was a true American, not only in his stalwart patriotism in the hour of trial, but in his loving acceptance of the doctrine of human equality, and in his belief and trust in his fellow-man.
Bliss Perry (essay date March 1907)
SOURCE: Perry, Bliss. "The Centenary of Longfellow." Atlantic Monthly 99, no. 3 (March 1907): 379-88.
[In the following essay, Perry presents a critical survey of Longfellow's career and comments that "no truer poet ever lived."]
We allow the centenaries of our men to pass without general observance. The one hundredth anniversaries of the births of Poe, of Hawthorne, and of Emerson, were duly celebrated at Chare and at Brunswick, at Salem, Concord, and Boston. But these were exercises of local piety, the expression of a provincial pride. A wide, national recognition of such anniversaries does not yet come easily to us; "they order this matter better in France," with a more spontaneous clashing of the cymbals, a graceful processional to the shrine. It is possible that the anniversary of Long-fellow's birth on February 27, may be more generally and tenderly remembered than that of other authors of his time. Multitudes of his countrymen to whom Hawthorne and Poe were mere necromancers, and Emerson a shining seraph announcing things, thought of Longfellow as a familiar friend. But twenty-five years have already elapsed since his death. To a busy republic, swift to forget even its best servants, a quarter of a century is a long period, and the startling and social changes which have been brought about within that interval—make it seem even longer still. Longfellow's life and work have indeed kept him in remembrance; but apparently, it is only Lincoln, among all the figures of that generation, who has grown steadily in popular fame.
It is inevitable that there should be some reaction against the extraordinary popularity which Longfellow's poetry enjoyed in his lifetime. Nor should his most loyal admirers quarrel with the spirit which today seeks to scrutinize the causes of such a popularity. To the true lover of books, the quality of a poet is everything; the counting of the heads of the poet's audience is but an idle occupation. It is difficult for Colonel Higginson to write otherwise than delightfully, but I wish that he had not begun his Life of Longfellow by giving the British Museum statistics of the demand for Longfellow's writings, and in the editions in the various languages of the world. Do not even the publicans and the historical novelists the same? Such figures—unless they cover more than a single generation—raise more doubts than they allay. Nowhere is a little wise distrust of the popular judgement more sanative than in the field of poetry. The literary mass-meeting settles nothing. If it records an enormous majority for some candidate today, it is likely tomorrow to vote his name wearisomely familiar, imitating, that illogical but very human and likable Athenian who petulantly marked his ballot against Aristides.
Yet if a little skepticism as to the wisdom of the general contemporary verdict is wholesome, a complete skepticism is rash. I know a shrewd and slightly cynical publisher who insists that the popularity of a piece of literature is always an inverse ratio to its excellence. This is a pleasing and easily remembered formula. It collapses, however, when you say "Hamlet", And I think it collapses when you say Evangeline. The presumption may be, and for certain fastidious minds it always will be, that a popular poem cannot have a high literary rating. But it is one of the most unsafe presumptions upon which a critic can put out to sea. There is, to be sure, a natural commonplaceness which forms a solidarity of sympathy between certain authors and their public. I once asked a poet: "How does our friend Blank, the novelist, manage to hit the average vulgar taste with such wonderful accuracy age to hit the average vulgar taste with such wonderful accuracy?" "He doesn't hit it" said the poet gloomily, "he is it." But this complete identity of author and audience must be sharply distinguished from that exquisite gift possessed by a few men of essential distinction,—like Gray, like Goethe, like Longfellow,—of giving perfect expression to certain feelings which are
in widest commonalty spread.
Both of these classes of writers may produce a widely popular poem or book. But the difference in the result is that which separates David Harum from The Vicar of Wakefield, and The Old Oaken Bucket from the Elegy in a Country Churchyard. Longfellow, it is true, sometimes allowed himself to print rather commonplace pieces. Like most poets, and like every American poet of his generation except Poe, he published too much. He had a sympathetic perception of the moods of unsophisticated people, and he usually preferred to interpret such feelings rather than the more recondite aspects of human experience. He felt, as we all feel, that the rain is beautiful, and he did not hesitate to say in verse,
How beautiful is the rain!
That he ran a certain risk in thus carrying simplicity to the verge of guilelessness he must have been aware, through the early, and constant parodies upon this vein of his poetry. But he knew his course. He gained and held his great circle of readers by precisely this obedience to his instinct. His contemporaries felt what Emerson (with perhaps a touch of unconscious patronage) wrote about Hiawatha : "I have always one foremost satisfaction in reading your books, that I am safe." To speak safely to one generation is to speak with some hazard to the generations following, and Longfellow's beautiful work has already paid a penalty for his overwhelming immediate success.
In one other respect, too, we must note a sort of whispered reservation that is sometimes made when Longfellow's name is spoken. One need not fear to utter it, even in the magazine to which he was such a friendly and honored contributor. Was he, after all, great poet? Mr. Longfellow himself with his delicate sense of literary values would have respected the scruple which prompts such a question. One may easily imagine what he would have replied. He was once showing the Craigie House with his unmatched courtesy, to one of those ignorant bores whom he patiently allowed to ravage his golden hours. The stranger asked if Shakespeare did not live somewhere about there. "I told him," said Mr. Longfellow, "I knew no such person in this neighborhood." Exactly. No such person as has ever been in the Cambridge Directory. But what of it? Why should size be snatched at as the chief criterion of poetic performance? The nightingale, type and symbol of all poets, is but a small brown bird.
How Longfellow himself regarded as an indubitably great poet may be seen in his incomparable sonnets upon the Divina Commedia. Dante's poem is there likened to a cathedral, within whose doors the tumult of the time dies away
While the eternal ages watch and wait
Old agonies and exaltations haunt these shadows; here are echoes of tragedies and of celestial voices. The windows are ablaze with saints and martyrs; the organ sounds; the unseen choirs sing the Latin hymns; and the head is bowed in the presence of the ineffable mysteries of the Faith. Nothing built by human hands has the dark grandeur of such a minister. There is only one other place that may be as sacred,—and that is the home. To open Dante is like passing within the solemn portal of a cathedral. To read Longfellow is like entering the Craigie House. The fine dignity of the eighteenth century is here. From doorway stretches a gentle landscape, with its winding river and low hills. All around there is a quiet beauty, with lilacs and elms and green lawns sweet with children's voices; within the old mansion hospitality, and gracious courtesy, and with the savor of worn books, and the sanctities of long, intimate converse with all lovely and honorable things. It is a roof, and it welcomes us in hours when the cathedral oppresses or appalls.
It is no wonder that men and women of New England blood are loyal to Longfellow. His stock was of the finest of our wheat. John Alden, the young lover in his most perfect narrative poem,—the "bunch of May-flowers from the Plymouth woods," was his maternal ancestor. Among his forbears were men distinguished for gallantry in the country's service, and for stainless integrity private character. His boyhood in Portland was typical of the time and section in its moral sweetness, its intellectual hunger and fine ambition. He had the look of his family,—the slim straight figure, the waving brown hair, the blue the quickly flushed cheeks. He read father's library the sound English classics of the eighteenth century, but the book to fascinate his imagination was Irving's Sketch-Book. "I was a schoolboy when it was published," he wrote forty years afterward, "and read each succeeding number with ever increasing delight, spell-bound by its pleasant humor, its melancholy tenderness, its atmosphere of revery, nay even by its gray-brown covers, the shaded letters of its titles, and the fair, clear type, seemed an outward symbol of its style." Such was the boy of whom—at the age of six—his schoolmaster had testified that "his conduct last quarter was very correct and amiable," and a classmate at Bowdoin—in that famous class of 1825—said, "It appeared easy for him for him to avoid the unworthy."
One is reminded of the remark made by Pavis de Chavannes in the hour of his triumph as an artist. "Who was your master?" he was asked. "I never had any master," said the painter, thinking perhaps of his restless, friendless journeys from one atelier to another; "my master has been a horror of certain things." That fineness of nature which made it seem, easy for Longfellow, as for his classmate Hawthorne, to avoid the unworthy, was perfected by the firm intellectual discipline and the clear flame of aspiration that characterized the years spent in the struggling country college. Typical of that period was his unashamed acknowledgment of his heart's ambition, revealed in a well-known letter to his father: "The fact is, I most eagerly aspire after future eminence in literature; my whole soul burns most ardently for it, and every earthly thought centres in it." How charming it is, this boyish ardor! Longfellow's was but one of hundreds of such voices rising from every home of learning in New England, three quarters of a century ago. We hear them still, in the fresh tones of this eager, generous high-minded youth, who had the good fortune to realize his dream.
It was fulfilled, as most dreams are, in unforeseen ways. Through the range and the quality of Longfellow's life-work he was enabled to perform a spiritual service for his countrymen. He was to become a national, rather than a merely provincial figure. In our imaginations, indeed, he lingers as a lovely flowering of all that was most fair in the New England temperament and training, in that long blossoming season which began with Emerson's Nature and ended—no one knows just when or how—within a decade or two after the close of the Civil War. There is but too much truth in Mr. Oliver Herford's witty description of the present-day New England as the abandoned farm of literature. Apparently the soil must lie fallow for a while, or someone must plough deeper than our melancholy short-story writers seem to go. But when the old orchard was bearing, what bloom and fruitage were hers!
Yet Longfellow was far more than a melodious voice of that New England springtime. It became his privilege to interpret to his generation the hitherto alien treasures of European culture. He brought Spain and Italy, France and Germany and the shadowy northern races, into the consciousness of his countrymen. While Irving and Bryant were the pioneers in this adventure, it was through Longfellow, more than any other man, that the poetry of the Old World—the romance of town and tower and storied stream, the figures of monk and saint and man-at-arms, of trouba-dour and minnesinger, of artist and builder and dreamer—became the familiar possession of the New.
This immense service was made possible through Longfellow's scholarship. When he was graduated from Bowdoin, at the age of eighteen, he had a good knowledge of Latin and Greek, and a fair amount of French. Receiving the promise of a professorship of modern languages at his alma mater, upon the condition that he should prepare himself by European study, he sailed in 1826 for a three years' absence. After two years and a half he was able to write to his father, "I know you cannot be dissatisfied with the progress I have made in my studies. I speak honestly, not boastfully. With the French and Spanish languages I am familiarly conversant, so as to speak them correctly, and write them with as much ease and fluency as I do the English. The Portuguese I read without difficulty. And with regard to my proficiency in the Italian, I have only to say that all at the hotel where I lodge took me for an Italian until I told them I was an American." He then proceeded to master German, and in subsequent years familiarized himself with several other languages of northern Europe. During the five or six years of his Bowdoin professorship, and for eighteen years at Harvard, he gave careful and competent instruction in these languages, lecturing regularly upon various foreign literatures, and superintending the work of the picturesque and often extremely difficult foreign gentlemen (the "four-in-hand of outlandish animals all pulling the wrong way except one") who acted as his assistants. Of the extent and accuracy of his linguistic attainments his published translation, from no less than nine languages are a sufficient proof. His college tasks left him scanty leisure; his eyesight was early impaired; and he gave himself freely, to the claims of hospitality; and yet in spite of these drawbacks his acquaintance with the literatures of medieval and modern Europe became extraordinary. He made, no pretense, however, to strictly philological erudition, and he would probably have regarded with mild surprise the formidable apparatus of learning which our contemporary scholars love to concentrate—like the irresistible wedge of close football formulation—upon the weakest points in their opponent's line. One may even venture to think that Longfellow would have found such philological contests rather dull. He played by preference the open game, moving with a delightful swiftness and case from folklore and drinking-song to missal and codex. His prose volumes,Hyperion and Outre-Mer, reflect something of the variety of his reading, and his natural sympathy with that European Romantic movement which was still occupied, in the thirties, with revivifying the past and lending an emotional coloring to the present. For years after his return from his first long sojourn in Europe this seemed to be his calling: to give a few American boys some bright glimpses of those illuminated pages which had fascinated his own fancy.
Then, after a decade of teaching, came the revelation of his true power. He discovered that he was himself a poet. He had written boyish verses, such as write, and the constant practice in metrical translation had perfected his poetical form. But here was a new impulse. His Journal notes [Dec. 6, 1838] "A beautiful holy morning within me. I was softly excited, I knew not why: and wrote with peace in my heart and not without tears in my eyes, The Reaper and the Flowers, a Psalm of Death. I have had an idea of this kind in my mind for a long time, without finding any expression for it in words. This morning it seemed to crystallize at once, without any effort. "How familiar that "soft excitement" is to those who listen to the confidences of the poets; and how inadequate an explanation, after all, of the miracle by which a poem comes into being!
Longfellow was now in his thirties. He had been called from Brunswick to Cambridge. The wife of his youth was dead in a foreign land, and he had returned from that melancholy second visit to Europe, to live with books and a few friends. His youthful ambition for eminence had deepened into a love of the beautiful and desire to speak truth. "Fame must be upon only as an accessory," he wrote, in a heart-searching letter to his friend Greene. "If it has ever been an object with me—which I doubt—it is so no more." Like Hawthorne, he found fame when he ceased to seek it. "The Psalm of Life," "The Reaper and the Flowers," "The Wreck of the Hesperus," "The Skeleton in Armor," "The Rainy Day," "Maidenhood," "Excelsior," followed one another as thrushes follow one another in the deep woods at dawn, with melodies effortless and pure. Everybody listened. Two of these poems, "The Psalm" and "Excelsior," have indeed paid the price of a too apt adjustment to the mood of that "earnest" moment They were not so much poems as calls to action, and now that two generations have passed, those trumpets rust upon the wall. It is enough that they had their glorious hour.
To appeal through verse to the national as well as to the individual conscience was not for Longfellow, as it was for Whittier and Lowell, a natural instinct. His path lay for the most part out of political poetry. Yet by his anti-slavery poems of 1842 he placed on record against the most gigantic evil of his day; and in his anti-militaristic poem, "The Arsenal at Springfield," he protested against the most widespread evil of our own. History loves to be ironical.
Longfellow lived to see those very Springfield rifles help to end slavery in the United States; he lived to see "Enceladus arise" and shake off by force of arms the shackles of Italy; but he did not live long enough to hear his" holy melodies" of international love succeed to the diapasons of war. The high priests of the present dispensation assure us that his vision of universal disarmament is only a dream, and a dangerous dream. Yet there are and will be others to dream it until they make the dream come true.
The happiness of an assured recognition by the public was now followed by the deeper joy of a new home, but his habitation still remained the Craigie House. Friends multiplied, although a chosen few, like Felton and Stunner, had still their privileged place. Longfellow began to build in fancy a great poem, dealing with no less vast a theme than "the various aspects of Christendom in the Apostolic, Middle and Modern Ages." For thirty years it was to occupy his mind. The second portion, "The Golden Legend," was finished first: a lovely, full-blown rose of learning, of sympathetic insight, of imagination. The third part, "The New England Tragedies," followed after nearly a score of years, and "The Divine Tragedy," which now introduces the completed poem, was written last. Thus the poet's task was ultimately finished; whether it was truly accomplished, according to the measure of his aspiration, who can say? He was not by nature a tragic poet. The New England dramas, faithfully as they reproduce the colonial atmosphere, seem but a provincial conclusion for the poet's comprehensive scheme. The sacred theme of "The Divine Tragedy," and the scrupulous fidelity with which Longfellow weaves the words of the Scripture into his pattern, tend to remove the poem from the unimpeded scrutiny, of criticism. We know that it possessed a deep significance to the author, that more is meant than meets the ear, completely as the ear is charmed. It is one of the instances, not rare in the history of letters, where a poet's greatest work—as conceived by himself—has been relatively unregarded by his public.
For it is unquestionable that to his contemporaries, both here and abroad, Longfellow was recognized as the author of tender lyrics, and of Evangeline, Hiawatha, and The Courtship of Miles Standish. These narrative poems have become so secure a national possession that criticism seems an intrusion: it is like carrying a rifle into a national park. And it is to be suspected that the most formidably armed critic would return from his unlawful excursion with a rather empty bag. He would discover, no doubt, a few weak hexameters in Evangeline, an occasional thinness of tone in Hiawatha. He would point out the essentially bookish origin of all three poems, or in other words—what is true enough—that Longfellow loved to enter the House of Life by the library door. Very possibly there might never have been an Evangeline if there had not been a Hermann and Dorothea first. Very probably Felton and T. W. Parsons and other scholarly friends of Longfellow were right in their feeling that the dactylic measure of Evangeline is less suited to our English speech rhythms than the iambic. Certainly the hexameters of Miles Standish, with their frequent iambic substitutions, are more supple and racy than those of the earlier poem. But this does not take us very far. We are no nearer the heart of the mystery of poetry for knowing that the rhythm of Hiawatha was borrowed from the Finnish Kalevala, and that the legends were taken, with due acknowledgments, from Schoolcraft. After all, the crucial question about Hiawatha's canoe was not where he got his materials, but whether the finished craft would float; and it is enough to say of the poem, as of the gayly colored canoe itself
And the forest's life was in it,
All its mystery and its magic,
All the lightness of the birch-tree,
All the toughness of the cedar,
All the larch's supple sinews,
And it floated on the river,
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn.
Like a yellow water-lily.
Evangeline had been finished on the poet's fortieth birthday, and The Courtship of Miles Standish was written, when he was fifty-one. That decade, so rich in poetic productiveness, was the happiest of Long-fellow's life. He had been granted what Southey, another library poet had craved for himself,
Books, children, leisure, all the heart's desires.
Success—a ghastly calamity for some writers—did not spoil the simplicity of his nature and the sincerity of his art. As the years went by, he discovered that college teaching, which had been pleasant enough at first, grew wearisome. His journal is full of half humorous, halt plaintive references to the "treadmill" and the "Yoke;" he likens himself to a miller, his hair white with meal, trying to sing amid the din and clatter; he finds it hard to lecture on so delicate a subject as Petrarch "in this harsh climate, in a college lecture-room, by broad daylight." In 1854 he surrendered his colleague chair to Lowell, and gave himself hence-forward wholly to his true vocation. He could not, indeed, summon the ungracious courage to protect himself from the merciless demands of callers, correspondents, and admirers of every sort. In one week he wrote nothing but letters; in one forenoon he entertained fourteen callers, thirteen of them English. But aside from these intrusions, which are the unavoidable impost-tax upon popularity, he was enabled, in almost as full a degree as Tennyson after 1850, to ripen upon the sunny side of the wall. The sheltered life was best, no doubt, for that delicate nature of his, disliking to strive and cry In the streets, and finding, as he confesses in his journal, "life and its ways and ends prosaic in this country to the last degree. "He was too true a poet not to feel the possibility of a poetic inspiration in the dominant chords of that competitive civilization which was already vibrating all about him. He notes in a morning walk: "I see the red dawn encircling the horizon, and hear the thundering railway trains, radiating in various directions from the city along their sounding bars, like the bass of some great anthem,—our national anthem." But he never—save possibly in "The Building of the Ship" —tired to set that anthem to music of his own. One is reminded of that other sensitive and withdrawn person, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who said regretfully of the rude life which he witnessed upon the wharves of Boston, "A better book than I shall ever write was there." Yet it would not be strange if both Hawthorne and Longfellow were to outlast the author of "McAndrew's Hymn."
In fact, the last decade—which has ordered its writers to serve up life in the raw, to write with their eye open upon the object, and to sacrifice beauty to the thrilling sense of contact with actual experience—has been hardly fair to the Cambridge and Concord men. It is undeniable that there was a transient phase of "softness" in the forties, which Longfellow did not escape. He thought it, "exquisite to read good novels in bed with waxlights in silver candlesticks," and exclaimed, after reading Fremont's account of the Rocky Mountain expedition of 1842, "But, ah, the discomforts!" He remained in lifelong unacquaintance with the physical aspects of his own country. Yet we forget how quickly the bookish man, provided he have the search-light of imagination upon his desk, can dispense with first-hand observation of scenery. Coleridge wrote the Hymn to Mont Blanc and The Ancient Mariner without having seen the Vale of Chamounix and the tropic ocean. The northwestern and southwestern American landscapes in Hiawatha and Evangeline are no less "true to nature" than the realistic picture of the rainy morning in Sudbury, in the Tales of a Wayside Inn. The mis-fortune of the home-keeping poets lies not so much in any artistic limitation as in our own lurking sense that some bolder and more enfranchising spiritual adventures might have been theirs if they had more often, as it were, gone down to the sea in ships and done business in great waters.
Yet we know but little, either from his Journal or his poems, of Longfellow's inner life. When his hour of dreadful trial came, in 1861, he met it with a gentleman's silent courage. In the years that followed he turned again for solace to his translation of Dante, begun long before. He found also, in his device of the Wayside Inn, a happy mode of linking together many a mellow story which he still wished to tell. The various Interludes reveal, to a fuller degree than any previous work of his, the ease of the finished artist, playful and adroit. The stories are for the most part Old World tales,—of Arabia and the East, of Sicily and Tuscany, of the green Alsatian hills and the gray Baltic,—but here too are "Paul Revere's Ride" and "Lady Wentworth." It is inevitable that in such a rich collection there should be some tales in which Longfellow's masters in the story-telling art would have surpassed him; stories to which Boccaccio would have imparted a gayer drollery, or Chaucer a more robust breath of the highroad. But we who have loved these stories in youth rarely tire of them, and the most brilliant, I think, are those that are most completely the product of Longfellow's own fancy
an invention of the Jew,
Spun from the cobwebs in his brain,
And of the same bright scarlet thread,
As was the Tale of Kambalu.
With the completion of "The Divine Tragedy," the trilogy now published under the title Christus: A Mystery was finished. Longfellow began almost immediately another long dramatic poem,Michael Angelo, which was found in his desk after his death. It is difficult to characterize it fitly, or to realize all the subtle bonds of affinity which drew the thoughts of the aging Longfellow to the last survivor of the greatest artistic period of, Italy. Mr. Horace Scudder, one of the most sympathetic and best equipped critics of American verse, used to consider this poem as Long-fellow's apologia pro vita sua, wherein the reader is always aware of Longfellow's presence, "wise, calm, reflective, musing over the large thoughts of life and art." I confess that I cannot see so clearly as this beneath the smooth, shadowed surface of the poem. It is Longfellow's most finished blank verse,—a verse that sings, mourns, and aspires, but never quite laughs; indeed, this was no time for laughter, after the sack of Rome. In lieu of action, there is a succession of charming or grave conversations, woven together out of the gossipy pages of Cellini, Vasari, and many, another chronicler; to read them is to see again the yellowing travertine, the broken arches, and the stone pines against the Roman sky; it is to feel the pathos of unfulfilled dreams, of a titanic, unavailing struggle against a petty world; in a word, it is to watch the red melancholy sunset of the Renaissance. But it is a strange apologia for the American poet.
Although the last two decades of Longfellow's life produced these longer poems, with a deeper symbolism that may escape the casual reader, they also gave to the world some of his best known and most characteristic work. The range of his poetic faculty and the ripeness of his technical skill were exhibited in lyrics fully as lovely and varied as the old: in descriptive pieces like Keramos and The Hanging of the Crane ; in such personal and "occasional" verses as "The Herons of Elmwood" and the noble "Morituri Salidamus" ; and finally in sonnets, like those upon Chaucer, Milton, the Divina Commedia, "A Nameless Grave," Felton, Sumner, "Nature, My Books," —which are already secure among the imperishable treasures of the English language.
There is no formula which adequately explains and comments upon such a career. It is apparent that Longfellow possessed, to a very notable degree, an instinctive literary tact. He knew, by a gift of nature, how to comport himself with moods and words, with forms of prose and verse, with the traditions, conventions, unspoken wishes of his readers. Literary tact, like social tact, is more easy to feel than to define. It does not depend upon learning, for professional scholars conspicuously lack it. Nor does it turn upon mental power, or moral quality. Poe, who could not live among men without making enemies, moved in and out the borderland of prose and verse with the inerrant grace of a wild creature, surefooted and quick-eyed. Lowell, whose social tact could be so perfect, sometimes allowed himself, out of sheer exuberance of spirits, to play a boyish leap-frog with the literary proprieties. The beautiful genius of Emerson often stood tongue-tied and awkward, confusing. And confused, before problems of literary behavior which to the facile talent of Dr. Holmes were as simple as talking across a dinner-table. But Longfellow's literary tact was always impeccable: he divined what could and could not be said and done under the circumstances; he escorted the Muses to the banquet hall without stepping on their robes; he met the unspoken thought with the desired word, and—a greater gift than this—he knew when to be silent.
It is possible to misjudge this fineness of artistic instinct, this professional dexterity. Browning, who analyzed, and perhaps overanalyzed, Andrea del Sarto as the "faultless painter," has, by dint of forcing us to consider what Andrea lacked, made us too forgetful of what he really possessed. Once made aware of the Florentine's limitations in passion and imagination, we tend, under the spell of Browning's genius, to give him insufficient credit even for his grace in composition, his pleasant coloring, his suave facility. And it is true that the greatest painters have something which Andrea somehow missed. No doubt the masterful poets have certain qualities which we do not find in Longfellow. But that is no reason for failing to recognize qualities which he did command in well-nigh flawless perfection. There are candid readers, unquestionably, who feel that they have outgrown him. But for one, I can never hear such a confession without a sort of pain. It may be that readers are naturally passing on room to room of the endless palace It may be that they seek a more athletic exercise of the mind than Longfellow offers them, and that they find this stimulus in Browning or Whitman or Lucretius. Concerning such preferences there can be no debate; the world of letters is fortunately very wide. But sometimes, it is to be feared, a loss of enjoyment in Longfellow is the symbol of a lessening love for what is simple, graceful, and refined.
These characteristics of Longfellow's art were rooted in his nature. From his Journal, on August 4, 1836: "A day of quiet and true enjoyment, travelling from Thun to Entlebuch on our way to Lucerne. The time glided too swiftly away. We read the Genevieve of Coleridge and the Christabel and many scraps of song, and little ballads of Uhland, simple and strange. At noon we stopped at Langnau and walked into the fields, and sat down stream of pure water that turned a mill and a little girl came out of the mill and brought us cherries; and the shadow of the trees was pleasant, and my soul was filled with peace and gladness." Nowadays many a tourist motors through without ever discovering the valley of Langnou; or, whirling past it, has no desire to rest under the shadow of by that stream of pure water. Indeed, it would be foolish for the tourist to tarry there. He would in not find in himself, as Longfellow did, a new peace and gladness; and besides, might miss his dinner in Lucerne.
A clear transparency of spirit, an anima candida like Virgil's, an unvarying gentleness and dignity of behavior: these were the traits which endeared Longfellow to those who knew him. The delicacy of his literary tact was one secret of his welcome, but the deeper secret—though this too was an open one—lay in the beauty of his character. There could be no better illustration of this than the familiar story of the pathetic but perfect tribute paid by Emerson, who, broken by age, and with a memory that had almost lapsed, attended Longfellow's funeral. They had been friends for nearly forty years. "I do not remember the name of the gentleman whose funeral we have attended," he said; "but he had a beautiful soul."
Those of us who once begged for Mr. Longfellow's autograph, or besieged, shyly or brazenly, the always open door of his home, can do no more than transmit our own impression of his personality. The coming generations will select their own poets, in obedience to some instinct which cannot be divined by us. For myself, I have no doubt that Americans, in a far distant future, will look back to the author of Evange-line and Hiawatha as we look back to his favorite Walter von der Vogelweide, a Meistersinger of a golden age. Now and again, very likely, he may be neglected. He is already thought negligible by some clever young men of overeducated mind and under-educated heart, who borrow their ethics from the cavemen, their philosophy from the raft-men, and who, in the presence of the same material from which Longfellow wrought delightful poetry,—the same landscape, the same rich past and ardent present and all the "long thoughts" of youth,—are themselves impotent to produce a single line.
But Longfellow's reputation may be trusted to safer hands than theirs. There can be no happier fortune than that which has made him the children's poet. These wise little people know so well what they like! They are untroubled with scruples and hesitancies. With how sure an instinct do they feel—without comprehending or analyzing—the note of true poetry! Will Stevenson be one of the enduring writers? I look at his twenty-five volumes in shining red and gold, and cannot tell; but when I hear a child murmuring My Shadow, I think I know. If there were a language for such childish secrets, the sweet voices that recite with delicious solemnity "The Children's Hour" might tell us more about Longfellow than we professional critics—with our meticulous pedantry, our scrutiny of "sources," our ears so trained to detect over-tones that we lose the melody—shall ever learn.
The children go to the heart of the matter. And so do many of those larger children—the men and women of simple soul who keep an unsophisticated way of looking at the world. There are some very highly organized persons who amuse themselves with poetry as they would with chess, or Comparative Religion, or "The Shaving of Shagpat." They can criticise and expound verses, and invent theories of poetics, and compile anthologies. But these valuable members of the intellectual community are not the real readers of poetry. To find the true audience of a Heine, a Tennyson, a Longfellow, you are not to look in the Social Register. You must seek out the shy boy and girl who live on side streets and hill roads,—no matter where, so long as the road to dreamland leads from their gate; you must seek the working-girls and shopkeepers, the "schoolteachers and country ministers" who put and kept Longfellow's friend Sumner in the Senate; you must make a census of the lonely, uncounted souls who possess the treasures of the humble. These readers are sadly ignorant of Ibsen and Bernard Shaw and Fogazzaro; but when the conversation shifts to Shakespeare they brighten up. They know their Shakespeare, and they know Longfellow. They are, sometimes described as the intellectual "middle class"; but a poet may well say, as a President of the United States once said of a camp-meeting at Ocean Grove, "Give me the support of those people and I can snap my fingers at the rest."
It is folly to worship numbers. But it is a deeper folly not to perceive that among the uncritical masses there may be a right instinct for the essence of poetry. It is glory enough for Longfellow that he is read by the same persons who still read Robert Burns and the Plays of Shakespeare and the English Bible. Until simplicity and reverence go wholly out of fashion he will continue to be read. In that quaint Flemish city which Longfellow's verses have helped to make famous there is a tiny room, in the Hospital of St. John, in which are treasured some of the loneliest pictures of Hans Memling. The years come and go, in Bruges; the streets and canals grow quieter here, noisier there, than they used to be; the belfry that Longfellow admired looks down today on advertisements of Sunlight Soap and American Petroleum. Yet in that hushed room in the inner courtyard of the Hospital of St. John, visitors still linger entranced, as of old, over Memling's "Marriage of St. Catherine", his "Adoration of the Magi" and his "Shrine of St. Ursula". Purity of color and of line are there, delicate brushwork, a charming fancy, a clear serenity of spirit: they are masterpieces of a born painter whose nature was also that of the dreamer, the story-teller, the devotee. There are Venetian and Roman painters, far greater than Hans Memling. And there are poets whose strength of wing and of imagination are beyond Longfellow's. But no truer poet ever lived.
Peter Davison (essay date February 2001)
SOURCE: Davison, Peter. "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Poems and Other Writings." Atlantic Monthly 287, no. 2 (February 2001): 125.
[In the following essay, Davison considers the civilizing influence that Longfellow's poetry had on his generation of Americans.]
In 1857 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, along with Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell, and other three-handled New England sages, founded The Atlantic Monthly. Our original mission was to free the slaves and bridge the chasm between the old culture of Europe and the new culture of America: to import the old and export the new. Longfellow was one of the principal builders of that bridge. He read eleven languages, translated from most of them, and decked out American legends in the brocaded costumes of European verse, rendering The Courtship of Miles Standish and Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie in dactylic hexameter. He translated the entire Divina Commedia of Dante; took the rhythms of the Finnish epic Kalevela and retooled them for The Song of Hiawatha ; converted the rhythms of Michael Drayton's "The Ballad of Agincourt" into an updated, blood-chilling narrative, "The Skeleton in Armor." He popularized an entire stable of international legends, and he shoehorned the American family into domesticated poetry in that pious precursor of Hallmark, "The Children's Hour." More than any other poet, Longfellow furnished Americans with a template for what poetry was supposed to be: uplifting, patriotic, exotic, dramatic.
He also made our literature known. Longfellow was acquainted with every great European of the nineteenth century, from the Marquis de Lafayette to Oscar Wilde. He is memorialized in Westminster Abbey, in the Poets' Corner. He brought us together with our European heritage and made the world respect our poetry.
A price, however, was paid. Longfellow may have been a citizen of the world, who took tea with Queen Victoria, but he was also plainly a citizen of Cambridge and of Harvard. In his poetry he seldom enlarged reality in order to explode it—not as Emily Dickinson deepened the interior word, or as Walt Whitman broadened the exterior. But (one should never omit the "but" with Longfellow) he produced a huge amount of memorable verse, which has crept under the skin of our language and is likely to remain there. If poetry's function is to make sayings memorable, Longfellow, with his younger admirer Robert Frost, surely possessed the unmistakable knack of permanence.
Chances are that more than a few bromides you utter originated with Longfellow. Indeed, they may have originated in one of the more than sixty poems he published in this magazine (several of which can be read on our Web site, at www.theatlantic.com/poetry). "The patter of little feet," "The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small," "One, if by land, and two, if by sea," "This is the forest primeval," "Ships that pass in the night," "Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs, / and as silently steal away," are famously his; but so are "Into each life some rain must fall," "footprints on the sands of time," and "a boy's will is the wind's will," famous thanks to Frost. Longfellow's secret lay in his understanding of language, his modulation of the musical sounds in such lines as "While underneath these leafy tents they keep / The long, mysterious Exodus of Death," from "The Jewish Cemetery at Newport." We cannot help hearing the long es in the first line broaden into the short es in "exodus" and "death," as though a sob lapsed into silence.
In Longfellow's poetry the scale is always human. That is what makes his best work so touching—and his worst so soppy. The universe was not built on a human scale, and the greatest poets know it; but to make the American continent fit for nineteenth-century human habitation some sort of taming was necessary. Longfellow kept the wildness at bay.
Christopher Irmscher (essay date winter 2002)
SOURCE: Irmscher, Christopher. "Longfellow Redux." Raritan 21, no. 3 (winter 2002): 100-29.
[In the following essay, Irmscher characterizes Longfellow as "America's first pop poet" and draws parallels between Longfellow's life experiences—as recounted in his diaries—and the thematic material of some of his most famous works.]
On the morning of 22 August 1879, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was lingering at the front door of his house on Brattle Street in Cambridge. A thin lady clad in black approached him and demanded: "Is this the house where Longfellow was born?" "No," responded Longfellow, recovering from his surprise, "he was not born here." Considering the next option that would explain the touristic value of the landmark she had come to inspect, the visitor suggested: "Did he die here?" "Not yet," said Longfellow, accurately. Since Longfellow had apparently neither originated nor passed away here, the lady now concluded that, to be worth her trouble, the building before her had to be the writer's current abode. "Are you Longfellow?" Now, finally, she got an answer that satisfied her, but the lady felt the need to add, reproachfully, "I thought you died two years ago."
This story appears in the last volume of Longfellow's diaries. On a level unintended by its author, it seems to confirm the picture of the prematurely petrified poet, paralyzed by his own conventionality, as it has been evoked by generations of critics since Edgar Allan Poe and Margaret Fuller. Neither dead nor alive, the poet of Craigie House had, at the end of his long career, already turned into the plaster bust that F. O. Matthiessen later claimed we must smash to get a better view of the genuine tradition of American literature. Or, as another visitor to Craigie House, mentioned in Longfellow's diary during the previous year, put it bluntly when being apprised of the poet's actual age: "I have seen a good many men of your age, who looked much younger than you."
Longfellow's brazen tourist, equipped with the stern confidence that comes from ignorance, could have been invented by Mark Twain, "an innocent at home," as it were. As the diary passage shows, Longfellow—pursued as he was by numerous callers who appeared, with little or no advance warning, on his doorstep, pestered as he was by zealous correspondents who coveted his autograph or required his support, spiritual and material, for their own literary efforts—knew how to make fun of the hordes of admirers. But more than a smidgen of this irony Longfellow would direct at himself, at the paradoxes that made up his life. What his diaries reveal—in their original form, uncontaminated by his brother's editing—is a fiercely private man who nevertheless depended on, and basked in, the admiration of the public, who liked, as he told Richard Henry Stoddard in 1878, to have his books liked. Intensely domestic, he was madly in love with travel and all things foreign; an ardent believer in the singular powers of poetry, he became also increasingly convinced that there was little new left under the sun for him to write about. But while he was perfectly capable of seeing through the many conventions that determined and delimited his life, he remained terrified by the idea of relinquishing them: "Let us be calm and happy, rather than excitable and nervous-minded." Wasn't even Oscar Wilde, he noted a few weeks before his death, a "very agreeable young man" when you met him in private? In his frequently described study at Craigie House, Longfellow surrounded himself with carefully selected symbols of "high culture" (Coleridge's ink-stand, glass-encased fragments of Dante's coffin, Thomas Moore's wastepaper basket, Liszt's portrait), but what really moved him to tears was pious poetry like Esaias Tegnér's "The Children of the Lord's Supper" ("Up rose the children all … weeping full sorely") or John Hugh McNaughton's lament, in Babble Brook Songs, for his deceased son and daughter.
To be sure, there is plenty of material in Longfellow's diaries to corroborate the widespread notion of the tame and timid traditionalist, of the sentimental writer who was a spineless "adapter and adopter" rather than an independent creator, as Walt Whitman believed. My favorite example comes from a conversation Longfellow had in December 1847 with the sculptor Richard Greenough apropos of a design for a fountain in the Boston Common. While Greenough was thinking of something dramatic, say "Moses smiting the Rock," the cautious Longfellow immediately suggested a safer subject, "a stag drinking at a spring." An emblematic story indeed. Longfellow would later purchase "a deer's head with antlers" to adorn his library.
And yet such anecdotes capture only one, and perhaps the least interesting, side of America's first pop poet. A less familiar view emerges from a chance find among the reams of Longfellow papers kept in Harvard's Houghton Library: two manuscripts of quirkily captioned pencil drawings by Longfellow, "Mr. Peter Piper" and "Mr. Peter Quince," apparently produced for the entertainment of his daughters some time during the 1860s. Not coincidentally, both of these illustrated narratives are directly concerned with one of Longfellow's favorite subjects, the experience of travel.
One of the most memorable images in the "Peter Piper" series shows Longfellow's protagonist, the Peter Piper of tongue twister fame, poised on the bow of his ship as it is pulling into Havre-de-Grâce (fig.1). Longfellow's drawing is a mixture of comic stylization and understated realism. His skill is evident in the handling of detail—notice, for example, the small rowboat to the right, hurrying in the opposite direction, propelled with such rapid, coordinated effort by two gentlemen that its bow seems to lift itself out of the water. The movement of the little craft offers an effective contrast to the tranquil grandeur of Peter Piper's entry into the harbor. With Piper's rapt gaze firmly focused on the city's skyline in the background, the positioning of the rowboat in the middle-ground also adds depth to the little composition. Like all good cartoon figures, Piper is an individual as well as a type. The broad outline of his face suggests just enough of that puppetlike rigidity, or "inélasticité," that Henri Bergson believed was one of the sources of the comic. With his spiky hair, pointed nose, and the hint of a broad grin on his bland face, Mr. Piper looks more like a snowman dressed for an evening about town than a world traveler. His arrival at Le Havre recalls Longfellow's own joy at setting foot, for the first time, on European soil: "I have been much pleased with this city," he wrote to his brother Stephen when he arrived in Le Havre in 1826, "because everything about it is perfectly novel to me."
If Longfellow's contemporaries Emerson and Thoreau had expressed their misgivings about the benefits of travel abroad, they were worrying especially about the challenges such peregrinations would bring to the still fragile concept of an American nation that they wished to be independent culturally as well as politically. Travel does not broaden the mind, Emerson and Thoreau lamented, but flattens it; what looks like an expansion of our mental horizons in fact shrinks the self to dimensions that prevent us from realizing our full possibilities as inhabitants of the United States of America. Thoreau encouraged his readers to be "the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clark… of your own streams and oceans," rather than going around the world to "count the cats in Zanzibar." Emerson mocked traveling as a "fool's paradise," the "symptom of a deeper unsoundness" affecting our entire intellectual system. Travel stifles our desire to be ourselves; swamped with external stimuli, sights to see and people to meet, we eschew originality for the wish to fit in, to be like everybody else, to be the same rather than provocatively different. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
For Emerson, such an attitude spelled certain disaster. "Insist on yourself," he told his fellow Americans, "never imitate." Peter Piper, with his moronic grin and exaggerated exuberance, seems as if intended to confirm Emerson's worst fears about the effects of traveling on American "self-culture." Whereas writers like Melville felt it was better to "fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation," Longfellow's work was based on the premise, articulated at the end of the poem introducing his mega-anthology of travel poems,Poems of Places, that it is more profitable to see with someone else's eyes, even to use, on occasion, someone else's words, "than my own." Taken seriously, this is a controversial position. Literary history, even in its newer, revisionist guises, still insists on the new, the creative, the true, as Françoise Meltzer has said. As a pageant of authors in possession of their texts or, in a more postmodern vein, of texts in possession of their authors, it continues to encourage critics to wage their own (profoundly imitative) battles for originality.***
Longfellow first went abroad in 1826. For three years he traveled through France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, perfecting, through willing immersion in native habits and habitats, his knowledge of foreign languages. He wanted to be prepared for his new job as a professor of modern languages at his alma mater, Bowdoin College. Such abandonment to foreign terrain was in and of itself a bold move for a traveler from the United States, a country where, in Longfellow's own uncharitable words, shared with Alexander Slidell in 1829, "nobody … pretends to speak anything but English—and some might dispute them even that prerogative." (Privately Longfellow wondered if his future colleagues at Bowdoin indeed spoke the languages they taught.) Upon his return, Longfellow had mastered French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Portuguese—apparently with such fluency that in Venice, as he boasted in one of his letters home, he had to produce his passport to convince a hotel keeper that he was indeed American.
In his book on Longfellow, Newton Arvin mentions disdainfully the "guidebook strain" in Longfellow's work. He quotes, with approval, John Betjeman's nasty little poem "Longfellow's Visit to Venice (To Be Read in a Quiet New England Accent)," a stinging parody of what Betjeman identifies as Longfellow's naive confidence that through vigorous transatlantic sightseeing Americans can become honorary Europeans. But Longfellow in fact loathed the tourist's hectic mentality: "spare me from thus traveling with the speed of thought," he writes in Outre-Mer (1833-1835), poking fun at the idea of "trotting, from daylight until dark, at the heels of a cicerone, with an umbrella in one hand, and a guide-book and plan of the city in the other." He saw himself as worlds apart from the stereotypical, confused Americans vacationing abroad as spoofed, for example, in George William Curtis's 1853 satire The Potiphar Papers. In this book, the travel companion of the Potiphars, the "Senaar minister" Kurz Pascha, a "reputed savage" himself, cannot suppress a smile after observing how a profusely sweating Mr. Potiphar struggles with the intricacies of French pronunciation ("Kattery vang sank"). "Here you are," he comments, "speaking very little French, in a city where the language is atmosphere … with all French life shut out from you." What of course separated Longfellow from most of his American compatriots abroad was his capacity to perform, with ease, the verbal mimicry that stymied the likes of Paul Potiphar.
Longfellow's second European sojourn from 1835 to 1836 was overshadowed by his first wife's miscarriage and subsequent death in Rotterdam. Surprisingly, he mustered up enough energy to complete his studies of the German language and literature at Heidelberg, this time in anticipation of his new position as the Smith Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard University. In 1842, he escaped once more, ostensibly to soothe his nerves, strained from the teaching of unruly undergraduates, by taking the water cure at Boppard on the Rhine in Germany. But he could hardly tolerate the fact that even here he now had, as he complained to Charles Sumner, the sounds of his "native language ringing in both ears all day long."
Though two decades passed before Longfellow, a father of five, was able to return to Europe, travel remained a constant temptation for him, a love affair of the mind, with images of France or Italy floating up before him, usually at particularly inconvenient moments, during dreary faculty meetings or in the classroom: "I have dreams and visions to-day of foreign travel; châteaux and gardens in the South of France; and delightful rooms in Paris, with the sunshine at the windows. Restless, restless." And again: "Like delicious perfume, like far-off music, like remembered pictures, came floating before me, amid college classes, as through parting clouds, bright glimpses and visions of Tyrolean lakes!" Such sightings of Eden in "the great Prairie of a teacher's life" remained welcome even as Longfellow became increasingly attuned to the pleasures of a sedentary existence, abandoning himself to frequent after-dinner naps, periods of "unconditional repose," which annoyed, as he admitted, his wife Fanny "not a little."***
Longfellow's illustrated narrative about "Peter Quince" features such a devotee of dozing. Like Longfellow, Mr. Quince appreciates the rest and relaxation to be found in domesticity, at the fireside, where, sunk deep in his rocking chair, he is enjoying a quiet smoke (fig. 2). But like his creator, Quince also has a marked fondness for travel, although Longfellow and his character would part company in the latter's taste for reckless adventure. (Upon reading, in 1846, John C. Frémont's Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, Longfellow was simultaneously enthralled and repulsed: "What a wild life! and what a fresh kind of existence. But, ah! the discomforts!") Mounting and then riding his horse, his impressively striped back turned to the viewer, Quince is still in charge of his movements (figs. 3-4). Traveling by balloon, however, Quince comes to grief—was he named perhaps after Shakespeare's bumbling carpenter? Longfellow illustrates the pull of gravity that brings down his hero by depicting an inverted, miniature Quince in midair: a tiny, striped, insectlike Icarus headed for the predictable plunge into the vast ocean (figs. 5-6). But Quince survives, unscathed—a subsequent installment in the series shows his limp, wet body after it has been retrieved from the depths of the sea, and another shows him running after the balloon, hoping to jump aboard, apparently unfazed by the earlier mishap. While he is climbing, his body is hauled up into the air again, and Longfellow tries to illustrate his hero's mad scramble for safety by drawing an ascending series of striped mini-Quinces attached to the balloon's perpendicular rope (fig. 7).
Throughout the series, with a few quick strokes of a pencil, Longfellow succeeds in giving Quince a dash of individuality along with a maximum of comic generality, a measure of his considerable talents as a draftsman. Balloon voyages were a popular theme for children's books, and Longfellow was perhaps also ironically alluding to the homespun moralism and blatant nationalism of such books as The Balloon Travels of Robert Merry and His Young Friends, Over Various Countries in Europe (1855), allegedly edited by Peter Parley, and in reality written by Parley's creator, the tireless Samuel Goodrich. "How little is a nation which has no other thought than to live today, to eat, to drink, and to die, compared with a nation which looks beyond today, which considers itself God's missionary, charged with the duty of improving, elevating, and blessing mankind," says Goodrich's balloon traveler, Mr. Merry, comparing France to the United States. While the "country and the people of France" have a "time-worn aspect," in America "all is advancing, improving, growing." One of Merry's fellow travelers and eager pupils, Ellen, agrees: "it is something to be an American." Or is it?***
The eponymous hero of the second picture narrative, Mr. Piper, is not so sure. An indestructible, cheerful world traveler, he is certainly no less accident-prone than Peter Quince. It is possible that Longfellow's subtly subversive satire was also intended to mock the rather strained attempts at pedagogical entertainment made in a popular illustrated textbook his children would have used in school, Peter Piper's Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation. (The first American edition, promising its readers "Puzzling Pages, Purposely to Please the Palates of Pretty Prattling Play Fellows," was published in Massachusetts in 1830.)
There is little that is plain or perfect about Longfellow's Peter Piper. At the beginning of the story, in a kind of overture to what follows, we watch him going "a-hunting." At first, all seems well, even though it is hard not to notice that Longfellow's hero, in place of the obligatory gun, carries a walking stick, an instrument of limited use when riding a horse. The inevitable comes to pass—like Humpty-Dumpty in the nursery rhyme, Longfellow's dandy-turned-hunter takes a great, and graceless, fall, walking stick, traveling cap, and all. Unlike his British model, however, Mr. Piper has less trouble putting himself back together again. And here the cane acquires unfore-seen importance, as Longfellow's hero, after wiping his brow, laboriously regains control of his battered limbs. In the last picture of the miniseries, Mr. Piper once more walks, as Longfellow notes, "with ease" (fig. 8). Longfellow's daughter Alice, who eagerly awaited each new installment in the series, remembered later about the wonderfully resilient Peter Piper: "all the possibilities of life were before him."
This note of cheerful optimism underlies the rest of the series, too, as we observe Mr. Piper, always both in and out of place, engaged in a variety of activities increasing exponentially in absurdity. As Longfellow himself did in 1826, Mr. Peter Piper embarks on the Grand Tour. But unlike his creator, who in his letters home professed that he remembered little of the actual voyage ("a dreary blank"), Peter Piper takes a more active part in the proceedings, foolishly leaving his ship for a solitary row on choppy waters, where he soon finds himself pursued by a surprisingly real-istic looking shark, jaws agape (figs. 9-10). In one of the most impressive pictures from the sequence, Peter Piper "helps take in sail" (fig. 11). We see Long-fellow's hero, again dressed to the nines, the trademark walking stick tucked tight under his right arm, poking his carrot nose into matters of no immediate concern to him. He is precariously poised in the rigging of the ship, his high-heeled boots looking hilariously incongruous in his lofty environment. Piper's bland face, drawn in profile, is turned toward the bow-legged sailor next to him, who, unlike Longfellow's hero, is in fact at work, hauling in, as well he should, the sails of the ship. While Peter Piper's neatly shod feet point to the right, his face is directed to the left, contributing to the awkwardness of his elevated position. The downward diagonal of the mast beam in the foreground forms an effective contrast with the upward reaching diagonals of the masts, thinner than matchsticks, of the other sailboats afloat in the background. With a few casual strokes and some rough outlines, Longfellow creates an image of spatial depth; the most distant ship is indicated by a simple line. The humorous effect of the image is enhanced by the fact that the masts of the two vessels in the middleground seem to be pointing more or less directly at the posteriors of the two men perched above.
His clumsiness notwithstanding, when Mr. Peter Piper finally arrives in France, he transmogrifies without further ado and quite smoothly into the suave "M. Pierre Piper." Soon we meet him (almost) in the nude, reposing in a spacious tub. Pierre takes a bath, "un bain chaud," in a quaint French bathroom with a beautifully tiled floor (fig. 12). Interestingly, Piper's face is less individualized than the two faucets—"chaud et froid"—right above it. (As the owner of one of the first shower baths in Cambridge, popular with friends like Senator Sumner, Longfellow relished such modern amenities.) Then we see Piper at the barbershop enjoying a haircut, administered with panache by a dapper French hairdresser, who, carefully coiffed himself, is characterized in a wonderful French euphemism as an "artiste en cheveux" (fig.13). The inevitable hat and walking stick are always prominently displayed, either on a chair or on the floor in the foreground. How different, though, is Mr. Piper's experience from that recorded, a bit later, in Mark Twain's travel narrative The Innocents Abroad (1869), where Twain's alter ego suspects that the Parisian barber he visited, "like the genius of destruction," had his mind set on "skinning" rather than shaving him. "Foreigner, beware!" shouts Twain, rising in his chair and angrily reversing the terms of the encounter in which traveling tourist meets native professional. Twain vows "dark and bloody revenge" the next time a French barber approaches him in this manner: "from that day forth that barber will never be heard of more."
For Longfellow, on the other hand, shedding one's old skin, divesting oneself of one's accustomed self, and exchanging it for a different identity while traveling abroad, was highly desirable. As far as he was concerned, the purpose of travel did not consist—as it did for Twain, despite the thick layers of irony in which he cloaks his narrative—in the eventual affirmation of the familiar prejudices, but in the playful exploration of alternative possibilities of being. While in Paris, Longfellow began to sign his letters home with "Henri." Inwardly he was still a "Jonathan," he told his brother, while outwardly he had assumed "a little of the Parlez-vous": "a long-waisted thin coat—claret-coloured—and a pair of linen pantaloons:—and on Sundays and other fête days—I appear in all the glory of a little hard French hat—glossy—and brushed—and rolled up at the sides." Thus splendidly attired, he promenaded "amongst the crowds of the Luxembourg." To which description Longfellow's father replied, unmoved, that such mimicry was not only expensive but also ideologically suspect: "You should remember that you are an American, and as you are a visitor for a short time only in a place, you should retain your own National Costume."
If Longfellow's earlier self still needed such adjustments, the central point of his later narrative is that, to become M. Pierre Piper, Mr. Peter Piper doesn't even have to undergo a visible change—no costume necessary. Watching his antics, we might recall Long-fellow's characterization of the French language from his anthology Poets and Poetry of Europe (1845): while perhaps less suitable for the expression of tragic sentiments and higher aspirations, French, in its sweetness, pliability, and "colloquial elegance," surpasses all other languages. Obviously, "Peter Piper," composed at a time when Longfellow's own children were studying French (while Emerson's son Edward, for example, was still ploughing his way through Viri Romae), also served as a kind of advertisement for the advantages of the "Parlez-vous." In fact, a manuscript fragment of a children's story also composed by Longfellow, "Little Merrythought," reveals a bit more about Longfellow's primary audience here. It contains a funny little episode intended as a gentle mockery of the American child's ability to deal with foreign languages. Little Edith Longfellow, the best student in a French class of one, mistranslates "Ma mère est aimable" as "My mother ate a marble," whereupon her father/instructor penalizes her by sending her back "to the foot of the class, which was not very far, because, as I said before, she was the only one in it."
But Longfellow's Peter Piper, with his swift change of identity, his rapid transformation from American innocent to French savant, is not just a funny character in a series of doodlings produced for the purposes of light-hearted family entertainment. These drawings spoke to more serious issues on Longfellow's mind; there is reason to believe that Longfellow was wittingly commenting here on his own elusiveness—his amazing versatility as a poet, critic, and multilingual translator as well as his readiness to adapt and imitate, with perfection, the styles, themes, and forms of others.***
From his earliest critical writings, Longfellow would profess his love for authors who evade the reader's desire for identification. In Outre-Mer, he praises the French "Trouvères," noting that there are indeed "few characteristic marks by which any individual author can be singled out and ranked above the rest." He quotes an anonymous medieval English poem on the passage of time, "copied from a book whose title I have forgotten, and of which I have but a single leaf, containing the poem." And he praises the "ancient ballads of Spain; poems which, like the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, have outlived the names of their builders," adding another turn of the screw by quoting the appreciative commentary on these anonymous works from the pen of an anonymous critic: "'These poets … have left behind them no trace to which the imagination can attach itself.'" But even more than such overtly literary examples, Longfellow discovered he liked the anonymous inscriptions on tombstones, authorless poems in miniature, as it were. He singles out, for its brevity, lucidity, and immediate appeal, one seen in a cemetery in Bologna: "Lucrezia Picini / Implora eterna pace." (Longfellow had probably forgotten that he had cribbed the epitaph—which now seems truly authorless—from one of Byron's letters to John Murray, and never mind that Lucrezia's grave was not in Bologna but Ferrara.)
In one of his Harvard College lectures from 1837, Longfellow criticized Goethe for being too subjective: it was "the same voice, only somewhat counterfitted; the same face partially concealed" that he found in all of Goethe's works. Presumably speaking about himself, he then extolled the virtues of objectivity, in phrases that recall Keats and anticipate T. S. Eliot: "The author is not seen in his book. He never speaks in his own person; nor are you reminded of him. He is completely swallowed up and lost sight of." Not surprisingly, the form of the anthology, with its multiple opportunities for the diffusion of author-ship and the possibilities of vicarious travel it offered, became one of Longfellow's favorite genres, from The Waif (1845) and The Poets and Poetry of Europe (1845), to Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), Longfellow's answer to Boccaccio and Chaucer, and, finally, the thirty-one-volume anthology Poems of Places (1876-1879), the most comprehensive collection of poems ever published in the United States. The anthology, for Longfellow, was not an instrument for separating the wheat from the chaff, a means of preserving all that is good over all that is not-so-good, as the note preceding The Poets and Poetry of Europe makes clear: "in order to render the literary history of the various countries as complete as these materials and the limits of a single volume would allow, an author of no great note has sometimes been admitted, or a poem which a severer taste would have excluded. The work is to be regarded as a collection, rather than as a selection."
In The Poets and Poetry of Europe, the language in which a poem was originally written and not the name of the author determined its placement in the volume. In The Waif, all the entries are anonymous—one has to turn to the table of contents to ascertain an author's identity. In addition, neither here nor in the successor volume,The Estray (1847), do we find references to Longfellow's work as an editor; only the introductory poems, later published separately as "The Day Is Done" and "Pegasus in Pound," carry his signature. Reviewing The Waif, Edgar Allan Poe accused Longfellow of having written the allegedly anonymous poems in the volume himself and complained that he had purposely excluded such American writers as, above all, Edgar Allan Poe—presumably so that he could better imitate ("is that the word?"), or rather plagiarize, their styles and themes. Lambasting Longfellow as the "great mogul of imitators," Poe used the willing pages of his Broadway Journal to document the unauthorized borrowings in Longfellow's work from Sidney, Milton, Tennyson, Bryant, and, of course, "Edgar, a Poet." In his diary, Longfellow retaliated in verse: "In Hexameters sings serenely a Harvard professor / In Pentameter him damns censorious Poe." Ironically, since Longfellow's lines imitate, as he very well knew, a similar epigram by Friedrich Schiller, he thus indirectly, if jokingly, confirmed Poe's angry allegations.
There are, in fact, so many voices that meet and merge in Longfellow's works that, even to the author himself, it sometimes seemed they hadn't been written by anyone in particular. The anthologizing impulse prevailed, it seemed, also in his supposedly "original" work. Often he was startled to find images that he had used or wanted to use in a poem written by another poet before him: "This line I never saw before," he wrote, after coming across a version of the image that had come into his mind during one of his early morning walks, "The houses hearsed with plumes of smoke," in a poem by Richard Crashaw: "The idea rose up in my mind unsought, at the scene before me. But if I ever print that line, it will be called a plagiarism." The comparison he had suggested between the cadences of the human voice and a falling star in "Excelsior" he later discovered in John Gardiner Brainard's poem "The Mocking-Bird": "Brainard's poem was not in my mind," he assured himself in his diary, "nor had I in all probability ever read it." But, then, his friend, the classicist Cornelius Felton, had told him that a similar image also occurs in the works of either Euripides or Pindar, "I forget which." Sighs Longfellow, "One cannot strike a spade into the soil of Parnassus, without disturbing the bones of some dead poet."
It is hardly a coincidence that the subject of Longfellow's most sustained efforts as a scholar and as a translator was Dante's Divine Comedy, a work that is in large part about a living poet's encounter with a poet from the past, Virgil, whom Dante hails as "lo mio maestro e 'l mio autore." As an author, Dante was, as Charles Labitte characterized him in an essay from 1842 (appended to Longfellow's translation of Purgatorio), both "imitateur et créateur," both "écléctique et original." Wrote Labitte: "One would have to look for influences everywhere, in the form, the content, even in the very language of his admirable book." Dante's wanderings in search of Beatrice through the nine circles of Hell, the seven terraces of Purgatory, and ten heavens of Paradise are also a voyage across a sea of preexisting ideas, concepts, and stories. The richly detailed notes Longfellow penned for his translation assiduously catalogue Dante's allusions to and borrowings from Lucan, Ovid, Statius, Aquinas, and, of course, Virgil himself. But they also chart the afterlife of Dante's words, borrowings and "imitations" made, either consciously or unconsciously, by subsequent writers: the image of the sun "whitening" the night-chilled flowers with its beams (Inferno II), imitated, as Longfellow points out, "by Chaucer, Spenser, and many more"; the beautiful description of the sunrise changing from vermilion into orange in Purgatorio II, "imitated" in Boccaccio's Decameron; the comparison of ghosts to dead leaves (Inferno III), which reappears, in inverted form, in Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind"; Beatrice's reflections on the passing glory of childhood in Paradiso XXVIII, which resonate in Word-sworth's "Ode: Intimations of Immortality." Dante's vast poem thus appears embedded in a web of textual references, reaching both back into antiquity and forward into the translator's own time.
If Longfellow's notes shift between the old and the new, his Dante translation, neither too literal nor too liberal, likewise inhabits an intermediate space. Translating, which for him had a "great and strange fascination," was a deliberate exercise in self-abandonment: "It seize people," wrote Longfellow, "with irresistible power and whirls them away till they are beside themselves." Characteristically, the final result was achieved in consultation with the members of the newly formed "Dante Club," which met on Wednesday nights at Craigie House to discuss the proof sheets of Longfellow's translation. But even the manuscript drafts show the lively debate Longfellow carried on with himself while working on Dante's text. Poised between the past and the present, between different languages and cultures, his rendering of Divine Comedy is not simply an approximation, in another language, of a forever elusive original. But neither does it stray far enough from Dante's text to establish itself as independent from it, as a recreation in a seemingly new form. In fact, the Italian language remains present as a point of reference throughout Longfellow's version. For example, when Dante mentions the difficulty of expressing what he has seen in the lowest circle of Hell in the language that also includes affectionate names for "mother" and "father," Longfellow's translation reminds the reader of just what language this is: "For 'tis no enterprise to take in jest, / To sketch the bottom of all the universe, / Nor for a tongue that cries Mamma and Babbo" (Inferno XXXII). The manuscript shows that Longfellow's choice of the original Italian words was a deliberate one; the line at first read: "Nor for a tongue that says 'Mama, Papa.'" John Ciardi's version, "tongues that only babble child's play," constrained by the desire to find an exact equivalent in English for Dante's terza rima, seems little better here than the solution offered by Longfellow's popular English predecessor, Henry Francis Cary ("to describe the depth / Of all the universe / … demands a tongue not used / To infant babbling"). Robert Pinsky's recent attempt to translate this passage, on the other hand, comes surprisingly close to Longfellow's suggestion: "It is not jokingly that one begins / To describe the bottom of the universe— / Not a task suited for a tongue that whines // Mamma and Dadda." A translator's worst mistake, according to Walter Benjamin, is a refusal to let his or her work be affected by the foreign language.
Seen in this light, the linguistic infelicities Newton Arvin has noticed in Longfellow's translation can also be read as an intentional attempt to defamiliarize the reader, to remind her that she is, in fact, reading not a Longfellow poem but a translation from another language. A good example is the powerful ending of the Inferno, when Dante and Virgil, climbing over the devil's hairy flank, emerge from Hell. "E quindi uscimmo," remembers Dante, "a riveder le stelle." Allen Mandelbaum translates this passage soberly, splitting Dante's beautiful line in two: "It was from there / that we emerged, to see—once more—the stars." The "once more" seems pale, mundane, as if Dante had just come back from a trip to the store. In Longfellow's version, "Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars," the verb might sound stilted, but it conveys well the exhilaration as well as the gravity of the experience, while it also retains, since it has the same number of syllables and the same initial consonant, a noticeable trace of the Italian original, "riveder." (When Longfellow finished his translation of Inferno XXXIV, on 16 April 1863 at one o'clock in the afternoon, as he noted on the manuscript, his own exhilaration is mirrored in the double underlining of the final word, "Stars.")
Even Longfellow's archaisms serve a specific purpose. Longfellow himself made a point of defending them in his debates with members of the Dante Club, as the Ohio journalist J. H. A. Bone confirmed after being invited to sit in on one of the meetings. "Siede la terra dove nata fui," begins Francesca da Rimini's tearful account in Inferno V, "su la marina dove 'l Po descende / per aver pace co' seguci sui." In Longfellow's reworking, the striking rhythm of the passage, descending down the lines as the river Po flows into the ocean, is subtly preserved: "Sitteth the city, wherein I was born, / Upon the sea-shore where the Po descends / To rest in peace with all his retinue." Longfellow's "Sitteth" will strike some readers as needlessly rarified, but the word's two syllables make it a much more effective reminder of the Italian verb "siede" than the lackluster "sits." The substitution of "city" for "land" (terra) in the same line, not adopted by subsequent Dante translators, might strike some as arbitrary and even historically incorrect (Francesca's birthplace, Ravenna, was in fact a "territory"), but it helps Longfellow create a nice echo with "Sitteth." In Canto V, Francesca describes herself as a devotee of exactly the kind of absorptive, escapist reading Longfellow's work also would seem to have encouraged ("One day we reading were for our delight"). But clearly she is something of a sentimental poet herself, skilled at manipulating her audience: her words have the effect of making Dante swoon. It seems only fitting that Longfellow should have given her such a phonetically effective line. Incidentally, Longfellow liked this passage from Inferno so much that he imitated it also at the beginning of a poem that nostalgically evoked his own birthplace, "My Lost Youth" : "Often I think of the beautiful town / That is seated by the sea." As translation becomes creation, the boundaries between the "original" and its "imitation" in another language begin to blur.***
We seem to have lost sight of our French-speaking traveler Mr. Peter Piper. And yet he has always been there behind the argument of this essay, waving his dapper hat. As a walking, sometimes stumbling, example of a person's translatability, his capacity to be the same yet always different, Mr. Piper, in a sense, embodies the core of Longfellow's poetics. In one of his aphorisms, Longfellow argued that a phrase like the evocative Italian image "ruscelletto gorgoglioso" could not be adequately translated by the English phrase "gurgling brooklet," and that the metaphor of the "garrulous birds" would fade when held against the wonderfully resonant Spanish original, "pájaros vocingleros." Longfellow might have believed, with Wilhelm von Humboldt, that each language possessed an "inner shape" that perfectly expresses the world of the people who speak it, but he certainly did not share Humboldt's doubts about the possibility of translation as such. Perhaps, continued Longfellow, to an Italian or Spanish ear the English words "gurgling brooklet" and "garrulous birds" would seem "equally beautiful." Seeing through different eyes, listening to different sounds, one begins to see in a new light what supposedly makes up one's "own" culture.
It is easy to see why Dante's Divine Comedy—a multiverse of stories, in which people constantly ask to be remembered for who they were, a panoramic tapestry of "lingue diverse" (Inferno III)—would have appealed to Longfellow. Above all, Dante's poem was also, as he noted in a lecture given at Harvard in 1838, a travel narrative: "much of the beautiful description of landscape, and the morning and evening, bears the freshness of that impression, which is made on the mind of a foot-traveler, who sits under the trees at noon, and leaves or enters towns when morning or evening bells are ringing."
Consider, in this context, an entry in Longfellow's diary written in June 1846, at a time when he was "mad for travel" and was devouring Goethe's Italienische Reise. Longfellow had embarked on one of his long excursions into town and ended up in Boston's Haymarket, where he found himself amid more cultural and linguistic diversity than on all his travels to Europe. Or so it seemed:
I slaked my thirst for foreign travel by driving to town on the omnibus, and walking twice through the market, where the mingled and delicious odors of the vegetables, and the sight thereof, transported me straightway to France…. On my way out stood awhile on the bridge, looking at the water and saying to myself that this was a portion of the same sea that washes the shores of England and of Italy. I then got into the omnibus, and there found some Spanish people, men and girls; and heard the sweet tongue again, and saw the well-known Spanish beauty of face and form, and imagined myself in Andalusia.
Longfellow now revised his own earlier views on the proper course for American literature. Gone was the hope so fervently expressed in his 1825 graduation oration at Bowdoin, in which he said that American writers should derive their language from the "high mountains," the "pleasant valleys," and the "blue lakes" of the New World; muted now was the call for an American literature "as original, characteristic, and national as possible," which he had issued in his 1832 review of Sidney's Defense of Poesy. The most boisterous representative of American literary nationalism, Walt Whitman, later suggested that we divide the writers of the world neatly by national affiliation: "in Egypt an Egyptian, in Greece a Greek, in Germany a German, in England an Englishman." If Whitman was hoping that soon American literature, too, would become "distinct" from all others, Longfellow came to regard "indistinctness"—a kind of widely traveled linguistic cosmopolitanism—as one of the assets of a truly "national" literature in America. As he noted in January 1847, "Much is said nowadays of a National Literature.…We have, or shall have, a composite one; embracing French, Spanish, Irish, English, Scotch, and German peculiarities. Whoever has within himself most of these is the truly national writer;—in other words, whoever is most universal, is also the most national." And if such literary universalism at present seemed a distant possibility, Longfellow would, on occasion, delightedly settle for its culinary counterpart, imagining himself as the cheerfully chewing consumer of foreign foods rather than the anguished producer of nation-building poems. In the winter of 1866, for example, he sketched out the first chapter of a satirical novel-yetto-be-written, a "Romance soon to be issued by Ticknor & Fields." The protagonist, the Cavaliere di San Lazzaro (Longfellow himself), upon finding himself home alone in "Castle Craigie," sits down to enjoy a multicourse repast, including fresh scallops sent from "the island of Rhodes," accompanied by a sampling of Sicilian wine and a taste of claret from France. "O dolce frutta del Mar," exclaims Lazzaro/Longfellow, rising from his chair, "like a giant refreshed," to smoke a cigar from Brazil.
The equally eclectic fare served up in many of Long-fellow's works, made up of other people's words and ideas, was not for the palates of all his contemporaries, though. Some felt especially challenged by the linguistic and cultural mishmash of his "Indian" epic The Song of Hiawatha, "the Song of-no-author," as one of his many parodists put it. Written in a meter borrowed from a pseudoarchaic Finnish epic, suffused with words taken from Schoolcraft's Ojibway lexicon,Hiawatha often reads like a rough draft of a translation abandoned halfway through: "By the river's brink he wandered / Through the Muskoday, the meadow, / Saw the wild rice, Mahnomonee, / Saw the blueberry, Meenahga, / And the strawberry, Odahmin, / And the gooseberry, Shahbomin." In passages like these Longfellow is asking the reader to make several adjustments: temporal, cultural, and, most of all, linguistic. Reading verse awash with strange sounds, the reader remains suspended between the then and the now, between the present in which wonders don't happen, ghosts don't walk, and "Indians" have well-nigh vanished, and a past world where snowflakes are hissing among the oak leaves, where at night "corpses clad in garments," the flames painting their faces crimson, cower around the fire, where even the stars, glaring like the eyes of wolves, are hungry, and wild geese make noises like "bowstrings snapped asunder." If we accept Longfellow's argument in the prologue, it is impossible to say "whence these stories." The visions of Hiawatha come not from the poet himself but from someone else, "Nawadaha … the sweet singer," who in turn has heard them nowhere in particular: in nature, in the forests, marshes, and moorlands of America. Deemphasizing human agency and authorship, Longfellow's poem thus becomes like the anonymous picture-drawings Hiawatha suggests his people should make to preserve what would otherwise be lost.
Bereft of his aura of uniqueness, then, the writer in Longfellow's world seems a diminished figure, a mediator rather than a legislator, a far cry from Emerson's "liberating God." As poetry becomes everybody's business, the poet changes into the skilled administrator and redistributor of common cultural goods. Hence Longfellow's baffling willingness to spend hours at his desk every day writing letters to the "semi-literate American public" mocked in Herbert Gorman's hostile biography; hence his readiness to answer queries from readers about his poetry. (Was Evangeline, inquired Miss Holden, a schoolteacher from Marlboro, Massachusetts, founded on fact or the poet's imagination? Had he been thinking of Goethe's Faust, asked Mr. Sawyer, member of a literary club in Brooklyn, when he wrote "A Psalm of Life" ? What exactly, wondered Berta E. Shaffer, a nine-year-old girl from Hamilton, Ohio, did the seventh stanza of "The Wreck of the Hesperus" mean?) Only on occasion did Longfellow vent his frustration, as when one J. H. Fenstermacher, from Potts-ville, Pennsylvania, who had "of late read a good deal about you being the best of American poets," demanded that Longfellow consider composing an "oration": "state your price and if satisfactory I will let you write one for me."
More characteristically, he responded to his readers with patience and politeness, even when he didn't like what he had been sent. Tirelessly he commented, cautiously and favorably, always adding that he really shouldn't, on his correspondents' own poetic efforts: counseling William Martin in Western Ontario not to rhyme "dawn" with "morn," suggesting to Miss Bates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was eager to see her works in print, that she'd rather "wait and weigh the matter well," and assuring Moody Currier, a New Hampshire banker, that he did recognize the "spirit" in which his poetry was written ("and that, as Göethe says, is the main thing in every performance"). He would encourage Julia Ripley Dorr in Rutland, Vermont, to try her hand at rhymed couplets ("the meter most agreeable to the English ear") and inform James Whitcomb Riley from Green-field, Indiana, the future perpetrator of "Little Orphan Annie," that in line 13 of "Destiny" he'd really meant to say "supine" and not "prone," which, Longfellow reminded him, "means face-downward."
Ironically, Longfellow's own relentlessly accessible works, written, in Pierre Bourdieu's terms, for a general, "non-producing" audience, seemed to empower his readers to think of themselves as poets, too—from the farmer in Michigan who wrote him, asking that Longfellow "endorse" his own Indian epic, to the gentleman in Maine who enclosed, for his inspection, a poem on the Creation, "done up in about six hundred lines," to Emily and Austin Dickinson in Amherst, who, inspired by its faint eroticism, kept a copy of Longfellow's Kavanagh hidden in the family piano. If poetry was everybody's business, this also meant that it was just that—a business, with the added advantage that it could be practiced even in inclement weather. This is at least what little Annie Longfellow pointed out in 1861, when she compared, to her father's delight, his work with that carried out by the fishermen of Nahant: "The trade of Poet is better, because you can do it all winter!" Longfellow might not have been the first American writer to discover that poems were products with a purchasing power all their own, but he did so with a vengeance. Consider the following episode recorded in his diary. In November 1847, shortly after the publication of Evangeline, Longfellow had made one of his frequent trips to Boston, this time to buy some hats for his children. As he was paying for his purchase, the clerk informed him: "You will get part of your money back tomorrow for one of your books." A trade indeed.***
All things in this world existed at least "in duplicate," Longfellow observed when he discovered that Schelling's essay on Dante, just translated by him, laboriously, into English, had also been translated by someone else into Italian. Some things might even exist in triplicate. One of the pictures in the "Peter Quince" series shows Longfellow's alter ego Quince accompanied by two almost identical-looking friends, with whom he moves as if they were performing a strange kind of vaudeville routine. All three are wearing top hats (as Longfellow always did) and striped tailcoats. Their postures are in almost complete synchrony: their right legs boldly stepping forward, they tiptoe on their left ones. Quince is taking his friends home with him after a fire, so frequent in the cramped streets of mid-nineteenth-century Boston, has raged in the neighborhood (fig. 14). Peter Quince, on the left, can be identified by his trademark huge ears, but otherwise it is not easy to tell who is who in this picture. "Imitation," said Bergson, "gives rise to laughter." Paradoxically, to Bergson, this is not a happy response. The laughter called forth by the caricaturist's distorting art masks our dismay at what we in fact see: the prospect of our own dehumanization; the dismal spectacle of movement without life; the realization that, somewhere and somehow, we too may be just like things, pathetic puppets worked by strings. But the reading of Longfellow which I have suggested here might tempt us to seek a different interpretation of this drawing: free from the constant pressure to make a path where no one has walked before, one may find, as Peter Quince certainly did, that there is still good company to be had on the road most traveled.
Matthew Pearl (essay date 10 March 2003)
SOURCE: Pearl, Matthew. "Let Us Read Longfellow." Wall Street Journal (10 March 2003): A18.
[In the following essay, Pearl commends Longfellow for contributing greatly to the development of American self-identity.]
We constantly pressure troubled nations around the world to achieve "self-determination." But to the extent that this assignment involves cultural self-definition, we have done very little of it ourselves. We've been so occupied with political problems, America may have disappeared without anyone noticing.
Observe our artistic community, on which much of the burden falls (fairly or not) to give the nation cultural definition: Our filmmakers arrange public press conferences and protest foreign policy in the streets; our poets organize a national "Poets against the War" day; and at the Grammys, an annual celebration of their art, musicians insert their geopolitical quips between acceptance speeches.
Much of this, legitimate and even brave, is just more politics, a long episode of Crossfire with more photogenic participants. In many of these circles, even our basic national art, the American flag, has come to represent what America should not be. This ethos reflects a larger mood that has failed to present an affirmative artistic idea of America—a mood that seems most at ease if America is more or less a blank, more or less missing.***
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow faced a country that was considered to possess no national literature of its own. British journals in the mid-19th century frequently expressed pity for America's lack of cultural identity. It was also a time of constant political crises and vicious rifts in America. Longfellow was, in many regards, immersed in political life and issues. He supported the abolition of slavery before it was popular even in Cambridge, Mass.; he was a lifelong friend and confidante of Sen. Charles Sumner; his son served and was injured in the Civil War. But Longfellow did not see his celebrity and his poetry as means for political ends, and for this alleged lapse his legacy has suffered and his work labeled parochial and aloof.
Prime among his contemporaries, Longfellow crafted an American poetry that searches, sometimes calmly and sometimes with unsettling urgency, for a fabric of our voices and legends. We now lazily dismiss Longfellow's most influential poems of American mythology—"The Song of Hiawatha," "The Court-ship of Miles Standish," "Paul Revere's Ride" —because they don't comply with our refined historical texts, as though that is the primary role of cultural storytelling.
Longfellow's artistic nation-building was so effective that some of his poetry became overly familiar, and we have restlessly thrust it aside as old hat while forgetting why it had found such a profound place—still never duplicated by a poet—among so many readers. At the same time, we overlook smaller Longfellow poems worthy of discovery like "The Revenge of Rain-in-the-Face," a vivid and anguished account of battles with Native Americans that resists political positioning in favor of inhabiting and sharing both sides of a complex American story.
Something else we foolishly forget: Longfellow's pioneering artistic vision of America was impressively wider than "Paul Revere" and "Hiawatha." He was one of the single most instrumental literary forces to bring other languages and literatures to America at a time when university boards cowered at teaching the languages of immigrants. Longfellow fought to give students access to these languages and was the first to translate many works of foreign literature for American consumption. This included the nation's first translation into English of Dante's Divine Comedy, a poem entangled in the "dangerous" Catholicism of the surging Irish population. Far from a narrow Mayflower perch, the literary identity Longfellow sought to discover in America drew its spirit from Americans' expanding spectrum of cultural backgrounds.***
In contrast, our anemic artistic sense of America today is troubling. We envy European culture without simultaneously strengthening our own. We are left with a view of America as a shadow of other countries, as most acceptable when part of a cultural conglomerate. At the start of the 21st century we have hollowed out a void not so different from the one Longfellow had to overcome in the mid-19th century, when America was conceived of as an offshoot of other nations.
Understanding a cultural power separate from even the most important contemporary politics, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow created an energy of self-definition for which we find ourselves in need now more than ever. Precisely because our politics swirl around us so fiercely, this should be a pressing challenge for our artists. Until they rise to meet it, it's time to dust off our Longfellow.
Allison Heisch (essay date 18 September 2003)
SOURCE: Heisch, Allison. "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)." Heath Anthology from American Literature (online edition), http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/bassr/heath/syllabuild/iguide/longfell.html (18 September 2003).
[In the following essay, Heisch suggests an educational approach for making Longfellow's works accessible to students.]
Classroom Issues and Strategies
If students have encountered Longfellow before taking a college course, the poems they know are not in this anthology:Evangeline, The Song of Hiawatha, The Courtship of Miles Standish. The Longfellow of this anthology is our late twentieth-century "revisionist" Longfellow, and except in poems such as "A Psalm of Life," he is almost unrecognizable as a writer who might have written those famous poems. If students have not actually read Longfellow, but merely heard of him (the typical case), they want to know why he's so famous.
Longfellow is accessible, and the fact is that in almost any class there will be students who adore "A Psalm of Life" and students who cannot stand it. Such a division, of course, presents the teacher with an ideal point of departure.
Although Longfellow is now very unfashionable, he is nevertheless an excellent vehicle for teaching about poetry either to the unlimited or the turned-off. Oddly enough, students in general respond to the story of his life almost more readily than to his poetry. That, therefore, is a good place to begin. They often ask about his fame. Some respond very positively to his sentimentalism, which can be tricky.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Longfellow's themes in the poems in this collection are nearly indistinguishable from those of his contemporaries in England. It's useful to show him, therefore, as an example of the branch of American literature that created itself in admiring imitation of English literature. He is also that rare thing, a genuine celebrity of a poet, whose fame has subsided and whose stature has shrunk accordingly. Many of the poems we now admire most are from his later years, and conform better to modern taste than the poems for which he was famous in his lifetime. Thus, he can be used as a good example of the ways in which changing literary tastes alter literary reputations.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Longfellow's poems are not only accessible in their meaning, but they are also highly regular in their form. It is very simple to teach metrics with Longfellow because he provides easy and memorable examples of so many metrical schemes. These can be presented in connection with Longfellow's personal history, for he is of course an academic poet, and as such a poet writing often self-consciously from a learned perspective. Thus, nothing with him seems wholly spontaneous or accidental.
Two points are easy and convenient where audience is concerned: First, the fact that Longfellow was in his time as popular as a rock singer might be in ours. Second, the fact that while he was writing for an audience descended from transplanted Englishmen, he was nevertheless trying to create for them an American poetry crafted from "native" materials, thereby making chauvinist myth. Admittedly, it's hard to get to that point from the selections in the present anthology, but since "The Jewish Cemetery at Newport" was originally part of The Courtship of Miles Standish, a way can be found.
THE SONG OF HIAWATHA (1855)
Graham's American Monthly Magazine of Literature, Art, and Fashion (1844-1858) (review date 1 December 1855)
SOURCE: "Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha." Graham's American Monthly Magazine of Literature, Art, and Fashion (1844-1858) (1 December 1855): 535-40.
[In the following review, the critic lauds Longfellow's "new and original" rhythmic style in The Song of Hiawatha, arguing that the poet invests his subject matter with "visionary charm."]
It has long been a sneer of foreign, and a complaint of domestic critics, that the poetry of America is not essentially American. The treatment which even our good poets receive from the London press, commonly illustrates all the insulting airs which can be assumed by patronage and condescension. Grub Street wielding the editorial quill, is never startled out of his national complacency by any efforts of American genius. At best, he good-naturedly pats on the back our Bryant, or Longfellow, or Halleck, or Dana, and says, "Very clever, my fine fellow, but we have done the same thing better. Give us something characteristic, please." And then follow vague hints of Niagara, the Mississippi, the Rocky Mountains, the primitive forests, and the Indians, which, as far as he can form a notion of them from his London garret, seem to furnish new materials for poetic description and idealization. A number of American poets, thinking that Mr. Bull really desired something from the United States that he could warmly praise, very patriotically undertook the task of writing Indian poems for him, but, if noticed at all, it was with a grunt of dissatisfaction, which would not have done discredit to an Indian chief. Longfellow, a poet who follows the bent of his genius in selecting subjects, and who is very properly more desirous of producing what is poetic than what is American, now comes forward with a poem ["The Song of Hiawatha" ] which must, we think, somewhat puzzle and confuse the transatlantic critics, who have been requiring something new, strange and American, from America. The poem, or rather the "Song," is in all its externals of scenery, costume, events and personages, entirely foreign to their apprehensions, and can hardly be understood and felt by them. If it be a poem, it is surely a national one, and we look with peculiar interest for the opinions which may be passed upon it from abroad. As regards its success on this side of the Atlantic, we have no doubt that it will be great.
It is first to be said, and said emphatically, that Longfellow, in his present work, abandons all those resources of picturesque erudition, which many consider to constitute no small portion of the wealth of his mind, and which doubtless furnish his imaginative faculty with constant materials for beautiful imagery and felicitous allusion. "The Golden Legend," for example, is a marvel of learning—a poetical reproduction of the manners, customs, ideas, sentiments, virtues, vices, beliefs, characteristics, of feudal Europe; and if the learning is implied rather than directly exhibited, it is because it is the learning of a poet, who vitalizes facts into vivid pictures. But "The Song of Hiawatha" is supposed to be chanted by an Indian minstrel. The assumed character necessarily demands an exclusion from the poem of stores of imagery and allusion which Longfellow could easily command, but which would be inappropriate to the theme and the person. He thus gives up the vantage ground of civilization, and relies for poetical effect on the simple action of his imaginative faculty on the materials which Indian life and Indian legends afford. He even keeps a rigid check on his almost morbid power of fanciful comparison, and trusts himself, with a grand confidence, to the representation of wild nature and aboriginal man. With the exception of his humane and ethical spirit, which subtly penetrates the whole poem, he seems to have suppressed all the peculiarities of his style, and to have changed the ordinary processes of his thinking.
The rhythm is also new and original. It will probably disappoint those readers who fail to perceive, not merely its melody, but the adaptation of the melody to the purpose it serves. The inmost test of originality in a poem is, that it bears evidence of having its source and being in melody, and in a peculiar melody. The words, thoughts, images, representations, are born, as it were, out of the tune to which it is sung. Longfellow's imagination seems to have been haunted by the singular pathos which lives in the tone of the Indian voice, and the verse of his poem has the lingering sweetness of a melancholy chaunt, finely suggesting through its sound the spirit it is intended to embody and convey. A vital relation exists between the rhythm and the whole matter of the poem, and, so necessary is the connection between the two, that if the same ideas, sentiments and events were put into any other metrical form, an essentially different impression would be conveyed. But it is important that the voice, in reading the verse, should slide into a slightly chanting tone, or its fine internal pathetic melody will be lost to the ear. We would not have believed that it was necessary to give this caution, had we not heard lines of the poem read in a manner which destroyed all its effect as melody, and almost as verse.
We cannot better illustrate the nature of the verse, or more clearly indicate the primitive sources of the inspiration of the poem, than by quoting a few of the introductory lines:
"Should you ask me, whence these stories?
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest,
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
And their wild reverberations,
As of thunder in the mountains?
"I should answer, I should tell you,
'From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors, and fen-lands,
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them
From the lips of Nawadaha,
The musician, the sweet singer.'
"Should you ask where Nawadaba
Found these songs, so wild and wayward,
Found these legends and traditions,
I should answer, I should tell you,
'In the bird's-nests of the forest,
In the lodges of the beaver,
In the hoof-prints of the bison,
In the eyry of the eagle!
'All the wild-fowl sang them to him,
In the moorlands and the fen-lands,
In the melancholy marshes;
Chetowaik, the plover, sang them,
Mahng, the loon, the wild gooso, Wawa,
The blue heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
And the grouse, the Mushkodasa!'"
He then proceeds to describe how, in the green and silent valley of Tawasentha, where, around the Indian village, spread the corn fields and meadows, ringed with groves of singing and sighing pine trees, this Indian minstrel gathered the materials of his legends and drew the sources of his inspiration.
"'There he sang of Hiawatha,
Sang the Song of Hiawatha,
Sang his wondrous birth and being,
How he prayed and how he fasted,
How he lived, and toiled, and suffered,
That the tribes of men might prosper,
That he might advance his people!"'
Hiawatha is a traditional personage of the Indian mythology, miraculous in birth and powers, and sent on the part of the Great Spirit to destroy monsters, to clear the rivers, forests and fishing grounds, and to teach the Indians the arts, labors and aims of peace. The opening canto of the poem, "The Pipe of Peace," represents Gitchie Manito, the Great Spirit, calling the red men together from all quarters, bidding them wash the war paint from their faces, smoke the peace-pipe, and prepare to receive the prophet and deliverer whom he is to send to them—a prophet whose counsels, if followed, will cause them to multiply and prosper. The next canto introduces us to Mudjekeewis, a redoubtable "brave," whose exploit in killing the great bear of the mountains, is rewarded with the dominion of the winds, of which he keeps the west, and gives the east, south and north winds to his three sons. This quaint legend is told with exquisite grace, sweetness and power. The following passage, descriptive of Wabun, the East Wind, and of his wooing, is perhaps the best portion:
"Young and beautiful was Wabun;
He it was who brought the morning,
He it was whose silver arrows
Chased the dark o'er hill and valley;
He it was whose cheeks were painted
With the brightest streaks of crimson,
And whose voice awoke the village,
Called the deer, and called the hunter.
"Lonely in the sky was Wabun;
Though the birds sang gayly to him,
Though the wild-flowers of the meadow
Filled the air with odors for him,
Though the forests and the rivers
Sang and shouted at his coming,
Still his heart was sad within him,
For he was alone in heaven.
"But one morning, gazing earthward,
While the village still was sleeping,
And the fog lay on the river,
Like a ghost, that goes at sunrise,
He beheld a maiden walking
All alone upon a meadow,
Gathering water-flags and rushes
By a river in the meadow.
"Every morning, gazing earthward,
Still the first thing he beheld there
Was her blue eyes looking at him,
Two blue lakes among the rushes.
And he loved the lonely maiden,
Who thus waited for his coming;
For they both were solitary,
She on earth and he in heaven.
"And he wooed her with caresses,
Wooed her with his smile of sunshine,
With his flattering words he wooed her,
With his sighing and his singing,
Gentlest whispers in the branches,
Softest music, sweetest odors,
Till he drew her to his bosom,
Folded in his robes of crimson,
Till into a star he changed her,
Trembling still upon his bosom;
And for ever in the heavens
They are seen together walking,
Wabun and the Wabun-Annung,
Wabun and the Star of Morning."
But Mudjekeewis, the West Wind, is, like most mythological personages, whether classic or savage, a sad rogue with the women. Nokomis, a celestial matron, falls one day from Heaven, and on the meadow where she drops, bears a daughter. This daughter is wooed, won and deserted by the treacherous and seducing West Wind, and dies broken-hearted, after giving birth to a son, who is no other than the Hiawatha of the "Song." The description of his childhood is admirably close to aboriginal nature. The birds, flowers, trees, stars, are his sociable and talkative companions; gossip to him of their inmost secrets; and Nokomis is always by to give dogmatic and satisfying answers to puzzling questions. We do not know but that her reply to his inquiry regarding the nature of the rainbow, is as good as science could give:
"''Tis the heaven of flowers you see there,
All the wild flowers of the forest,
All the lilies of the prairie,
When on earth they fade and perish,
Blossom in that heaven above us.'"
When Hiawatha approaches manhood, he learns the story of his mother's wrongs, and his heart burns fiercely against his father, and he resolves to seek and punish him. Putting on his enchanted moccasins, by which he goes a mile at a stride, and taking with him his magic mittens, which crush rocks at a stroke, he journeys to the dominions of Mudjekeewis. The description of that potentate of the West Wind is singularly grand; and the self-control of Hiawatha, as he leads his father gradually to converse about his mother, and restrains all external manifestations of the wrath that glows like a coal of fire in his heart, is thoroughly Indian in its conception. At last the hoarded rage breaks forth in a storm of accusation, and he assails Mudjekeewis with all the might of his passion and his magic:
"And he cried, 'O Mudjekeewis,
It was you who killed Wenenah,
Took her young life and her beauty,
Broke the Lily of the Prairie,
Trampled it beneath your footsteps;
You confess it! you confess it!'
And the mighty Mudjekeewis
Tossed his gray hairs to the West Wind,
Bowed his hoary head in anguish,
With a silent nod assented.
"Then up started Hiawatha,
And with threatening look and gesture
Laid his hand upon the black rock,
On the fatal Wawbeek laid it,
With his mittens, Minjekahwun,
Rent the jutting crag asunder,
Smote and crushed it into fragments,
Hurled them madly at his father,
The remorseful Mudjekeewis,
For his heart was hot within him,
Like a living coal his heart was.
"But the ruler of the West Wind
Blew the fragments backward from him,
With the breathing of his nostrils,
With the tempest of his anger,
Blew them back at his assailant;
Seized the bulrush, the Apukwa,
Dragged it with its roots and fibres
From the margin of the meadow,
From its ooze, the giant bulrush;
Long and loud laughed Hiawatha!
"Then began the deadly conflict,
Hand to hand among the mountains;
From his eyry screamed the eagle,
The Keneu, the great War-Eagle;
Sat upon the crags around them,
Wheeling flapped his wings above them.
"Like a tall tree in the tempest
Bent and lashed the giant bulrush;
And in masses huge and heavy
Crashing fell the fatal Wawbeek;
Till the earth shook with the tumult
And confusion of the battle,
And the air was full of shoutings,
And the thunder of the mountains,
Starting, answered, 'Baim-wawa!'
"Back retreated Mudjekeewis,
Rushing westward o'er the mountains,
Stumbling westward down the mountains,
Three whole days retreated fighting,
Still pursued by Hiawatha
To the doorways of the West Wind,
To the portals of the Sunset,
To the earth's remotest border,
Where into the empty spaces
Sinks the sun, as a flamingo
Drops into her nest at nightfall,
In the melancholy marshes.
"'Hold!' at length cried Mudjekeewis,
'Hold, my son, my Hiawatha!
'Tis impossible to kill me,
For you cannot kill the immortal.
I have put you to this trial,
But to know and prove your courage;
Now receive the prize of valor!
"'Go back to your home and people,
Live among them, toil among them,
Cleanse the earth from all that harms it,
Clear the fishing grounds and rivers,
Slay all monsters and magicians,
All the giants, the Wendigoes,
All the serpents, the Kenabeeks,
As I slew the Mishe-Mokwa,
Slew the Great Bear of the mountains.
"'And at last when Death draws near you,
When the awful eyes of Pauguk
Glare upon you in the darkness,
I will share my kingdom with you,
Ruler shall you be thenceforward
Of the Northwest Wind, Keewaydin,
Of the home-wind, the Keewaydin.'"
After Hiawatha's triumphant return from this Homeric fray, we have several cantos devoted to his trials and his deeds. His fasting, his sailing, his fishing, his grotesque battle with Pearl-Feather, the magician of disease, are replete with the spirit, and quaint, wild fancy, of the legends whence their materials are drawn. No other poet has told the tradition of the origin of the maize, so simply and so poetically as Longfellow has done it in this poem. The story of the building, or rather the creating, of the canoe, is also narrated with beautiful simplicity. The different trees yield to Hiawatha their spirit and essence as well as substance, so that the canoe, when completed, has in it all the life and mystery and magic of the forest—the birch tree giving its lightness, the larch its supple sinews, and the cedar its toughness, and it floats at last on the river like a "yellow leaf in autumn," with Hiawatha's thoughts for its paddles, and his wishes for its guide. "Hiawatha's Wooing" is itself a delicious poem. Minnehaha, or Laughing Water, so called from the falls near her Indian home, is conceived and delineated in the poet's sweetest and subtlest manner, and will rank among his most beautiful creations. The character, while it is true to the nature of the Indian woman, is rendered poetical by those evanescent, idealizing touches which exalt fact in the process of portraying it. Her shy reserve is more eloquent of feeling than the speech of ordinary heroines. The scene in which Hiawatha asks the maiden of her father for his wife, is admirable for its homely dignity and plain depth of emotion. The old man, after the request is proffered, smokes silently a few minutes, then looks proudly on Hiawatha, then fondly on his daughter, and answers with equal gravity and conciseness—
"'Yes, if Minnehaha wishes;
Let your heart speak, Minnehaha!'
"And the lovely Laughing Water
Seemed more lovely, as she stood there,
Neither willing nor reluctant
As she went to Hiawatha,
Softly took the seat beside kim,
While she said, and blushed to say it,
'I will follow you, my husband.'"
The life-like representations which succeed, of Indian festivities, domestic life, manners, customs, superstitions, indicate clearly that the poet has realized the facts of Indian life and character to his imagination with sufficient vividness, to give his descriptions the appearance of being drawn from observation, while he throws over the whole a softening light and charm, derived from his own heart and fancy, and which the eye of a mere observer never discerns. In the midst of this picture of wigwam-life, a legend is introduced, called, "The Son of the Evening Star," peculiar even among Indian traditions, for the startling wildness of its fancy, and the shocks of pleased surprise its dazzling incongruities give to the sense of proportion and probability. In all these legends, we are struck equally by the strength of the imaginative power they evince, and the scantiness of the materials, on which the shaping power is exercised. The result is exaggeration, disproportion, gigantic "vestiges of Creation," lying in heaps, or connected by no ties of relation. A similar result is sometimes observable in the early works of young poets, even in our day.
There is a period when the mere exercise of the faculties is a delight, without regard to the objects on which they work. As the mind broadens and matures, we learn to appreciate things and relations, and to find a greater pleasure in working with nature, and in harmony with objective spiritual laws, even in creating new beauty, than we found in misconceiving and distorting both, in the tumult of youthful, ignorant, and unregulated power.
But to return to Hiawatha. In the many schemes for the advancement and elevation of his race, which occupy his heart and brain, the poet especially refers to one, "Picture-Writing"; and the original process by which the untutored but aspiring barbarian might have made this step in civilization, is finely stated. Among the signs and pictures by which Hiawatha recorded events and thoughts, we have the following description of the Love Song, as written in symbols—
"Not forgotten was the Love-Song,
The most subtle of all medicines,
The most potent spell of magic,
Dangerous more than war or hunting!
Thus the Love-Song was recorded,
Symbol and interpretation.
"First a human figure standing,
Painted in the brightest scarlet; '
Tis the lover, the musician,
And the meaning is, 'My painting
Makes me powerful over others.'
"Then the figure seated, singing,
Playing on a drum of magic,
And the interpretation, 'Listen!
'Tis my voice you hear, my singing!'
"Then the same red figure, seated
In the shelter of a wigwam,
And the meaning of the symbol,
'I will come and sit beside you;
In the mystery of my passion!'
"Then two figures, man and woman,
Standing hand in hand together,
With their hands so clasped together,
That they seem in one united;
And the words thus represented,
Are, 'I see your heart within you,
And your cheeks are red with blushes!'
"Next the maiden on an island,
In the centre of an island;
And the song this shape suggested,
Was, 'Though you were at a distance,
Were upon some far-off island,
Such the spell
I cast upon you,
Such the magic power of passion,
I could straightway draw you to me!'
"Then the figure of the maiden
Sleeping, and the lover near her,
Whispering to her in her slumbers,
Saying, 'Though you were far from me
In the Land of Sleep and Silence,
Still the voice of love would reach you!'
"And the last of all the figures,
Was a heart within a circle.
Drawn within a magic circle;
And the image had this meaning—
'Naked lies your heart before me,
To your naked heart I whisper!'
"Thus it was that Hiawatha,
In his wisdom, taught the people
All the mysteries of painting,
All the art of Picture-Writing,
On the smooth bark of the birch-tree,
On the white skin of the reindeer,
On the grave-posts of the village."
But evil spirits, jealous of Hiawatha's goodness and wisdom, now begin to league against him. First, they take from him his friends, Chibiabos, the Sweet Singer, and Quasind, the Strong Man. Then they inspire—if such a graceless rogue needed inspiration even from them—a kind of mischievous and envious elf, named Pau-Puk-Keewis, to make him the object of his freaks of malice. This "Storm-fool," however, is hunted through all his transformations, and finally killed. But darker shadows now gather round Hiawatha. "Never," says the poet, as he commences the description of these—
"Never stoops the soaring vulture
On the sick or wounded bison,
On his quarry in the desert,
But another vulture watching
From his high aerial look-out,
Sees the downward plunge and follows,
And a third pursues the second,
Coming from the invisible ether,
First a speck, and then a vulture,
Till the air is dark with pinions.
"So disasters come not singly;
But as if they watched and waited,
Scanning one another's motions,
When the first descends, the others
Follow, follow, gathering, flock-wise,
Round their victim, sick and wounded,
First a shadow, then a sorrow,
Till the air is dark with anguish."
The descriptions of the pitiless winter which produces the famine, and of the ghosts which ominously herald it, are almost unequaled in grandeur and impressiveness by anything that Longfellow has previously written. The death of Minnehaha, and the anguish of Hiawatha, are likewise examples of his highest and noblest power. The account of the approach of the white men—the touching majesty with which Hiawatha receives and welcomes them—and his perception that his work, as prophet and teacher, is now done, and that he must yield to their higher intelligence and purer faith—all this is told with grand simplicity and directness; but the poet reserves for his hero a departure worthy of his coming, and we cannot better indicate our admiration of the beauty and splendor of the description, than by quoting it in full—
"'I am going, O my people,
On a long and distant journey;
Many moons and many winters
Will have come, and will have vanished,
Ere I come again to see you.
But my guests I leave behind me;
Listen to their words of wisdom,
Listen to the truth they tell you,
For the Master of Life has sent them
From the land of light and morning!'
"On the shore stood Hiawatha,
Turned and waved his hand at parting;
On the clear and luminous water
Launched his birch canoe for sailing,
From the pebbles of the margin,
Sheved it forth into the water;
Whispered to it, 'Westward! Westward!'
And with speed it darted forward.
"And the evening sun descending,
Set the clouds on fire with redness,
Burned the broad sky, like a prairie,
Left upon the level water
One long track and trail of splendor,
Down whose stream, as down a river,
Westward, westward, Hiawatha
Sailed into the fiery sunset,
Sailed into the purple vapors,
Sailed into the dusk of evening.
"And the people from the margin
Watched him floating, rising, sinking,
Till the birch canoe seemed lifted
High into that sea of splendor,
Till it sank into the vapors
Like the new moon, slowly, slowly
Sinking in the purple distance.
"And they said, 'Farewell forever!'
Said, 'Farewell, O Hiawatha!'
And the forests, dark and lonely,
Moved through all their depths of darkness,
Sighed, 'Farewell, O Hiawatha!'
And the waves upon the margin
Rising, rippling on the pebbles,
Sobbed, 'Farewell, O Hiawatha!'
And the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
From his nest among the rushes
In the melancholy moorland,
Screamed, 'Farewell, O Hiawatha!
Hiawatha, Hiawatha, the Beloved,
In the glory of the sunset,
In the purple mists of evening,
To the regions of the home-wind,
Of the northwest wind, Keewaydin,
To the Islands of the Blessed.
To the kingdom of Ponemah,
To the land of the Hereafter!"
We fear that in this slight and hasty sketch of the poem, we have done little justice to the poet's masterly treatment of his incidents and characters. It is difficult to state the fantastic elements which enter into the composition of the work, in any other words than those of the author, without sometimes converting his occasional child-like simplicity into simple childishness. Entering, as he thoroughly does, into the spirit of the subject—detecting the rude aboriginal power which stutters for expression in many a grotesque legend—and finding the materials for poetry in forms and modes of existence which are seemingly not flexible to poetic treatment—he always contrives to give to his expression of the commonest, or the most extravagant ideas, the dignity and beauty of the soul and sentiment whence they are supposed to proceed.
It will be objected, we doubt not, to the poem, that it is not radically true to Indian life and character. This objection will not, we think, apply to the external form and incidents of the poem. Into these, Longfellow may have subtly insinuated a humane and beautiful spirit, and an ethical significance, such as they do not necessarily contain or suggest. The poet's art is finely evinced in this, if the fact be conceded, for it is an art whose operation is concealed, and which is felt in its effects, rather than seen in its processes. And the result may be due, in a great degree, to the guiding conception which dictated the selection of the materials, rather than to any direct attempt at modifying or changing their nature. The leading traits which the poet and novelist have hitherto emphasized in delineating the Indian, are his savage pride, fortitude, hatred and cruelty. But Longfellow washes off the war paint from the Indian's face, at the commencement of the poem, and by giving a true direction to qualities, whose perversion has been identified with their action, rather disturbs ordinary impressions of the Indian than really alters his essential nature.
Conceding, however, that though this "Song of Hiawatha" leaves a singularly deep impression of reality and truth to things, it is still enriched with a liberal infusion of the poet's own soul, and implies a continual, though subtle operation of his refining and idealizing imagination, we are yet surprised that he has succeeded in imparting to it so much interest. It fastens and fascinates the attention throughout its three hundred pages of plaintively unvaried verse, and apparently unattractive matter. Whatever may be the judgment pronounced upon it, we feel assured that dullness will not be ranked among its defects; and yet we should have been inclined to pardon some tediousness in the treatment of the subject, from an admiration of the intrepidity manifested in its selection. The process, too, of its composition is that of the enumeration and succession of particulars, not their fusion and combination. This mode of mental action, by which objects are connected, rather than combined, is the process of the mind in uncultivated ages, and is the proper style for the imagined Indian minstrel, who is supposed to chant the poem, but it is as wearisome as a catalogue or an inventory, unless there is an intense imaginative conception of the objects enumerated. Longfellow has been victorious over this great obstacle to his success, through a thorough faith in his subject, and through that vivid and vital realization of its numerous particulars, by which words are pervaded with the life, and instantly flash the image, of palpable things.
In conclusion, it should be said, that "The Song of Hiawatha" proves Longfellow's mind to be essentially poetic, independent of all the aids it may derive from the rich suggestiveness of the themes on which it is commonly exercised. The poem demonstrates that subjects, apparently the most unpromising, he can invest with the visionary charm, and endow with the sweetness, power and beauty of his own genius.
Stith Thompson (essay date March 1922)
SOURCE: Thompson, Stith. "The Indian Legend of Hiawatha." PMLA 37, no. 1 (March 1922): 128-40.
[In the following essay, Thompson argues that Longfellow takes a number of creative and factual liberties in his portrayal of American Indian society in The Song of Hiawatha, concluding that Longfellow has "done violence both to the original myth and to the spirit of the life which he depicts."]
To the world of letters the legend of Hiawatha connotes Longfellow, without whose popular treatment it would be as little known as the adventures of Coyote or Raven, or a dozen other culture heroes of the Red Men. Since Longfellow's poem is the only form in which American Indian legend has reached the great mass of civilized men, the question of its authenticity must present itself to the general reader of American literature no less than to the student of literary relations. Do sixty years of active work on the part of ethnologists and folk-lorists show that Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha is truly Indian in theme, atmosphere, and spirit? To essay an answer to this question is the purpose of the present study.
The conditions under which the poem was composed are known to all readers of Longfellow's journal. As early as 1850 we find him entertaining an Ojibwa chief at tea.1 On June 22, 1854 we read of his intention to write an Indian poem by weaving the tradition into a whole.2 He read Schoolcraft's voluminous work on the Indians and found difficulty in selecting from its ill-digested material.3 He first planned to call the poem "Manabozho" after the real name of the hero of the legends, though later, following Schoolcraft's erroneous statement that Manabozho and Hiawatha are identical, he changed the name.4 Shortly before beginning work on the poem he read with great pleasure the Finnish epic, Kalevala.5 It is from this poem, as he tells his correspondents later, that he adopted the meter which is so characteristic a feature of the Hiawatha .6
When controversy arose after the poem was published and it was suggested that the story issued entirely from the author's imagination, Longfellow declared: "I can give chapter and verse for these legends. Their chief value is that they are Indian legends."7 Although, as will appear, he fails to be wholly faithful to the Indian spirit, and although he has selected his material so as to produce a unity that the original will not warrant, his statement is literally true. His chief source lies in the several works of Schoolcraft. The parallels between incidents in the poem and the sources are in many cases indicated in Longfellow's notes. In the exhaustive study of Dr. Broilo8 an original has been discovered for almost every fact in the poem. In so far as the poet departs from the real legend, it is always due to his being misled by a statement of Schoolcraft.
A good example of this is seen in the error, already mentioned, in the naming of the hero. Schoolcraft had asserted that Manabozho, the demigod of the Ojibwa and their Algonquian kinsmen, is identical with the Iroquois Hiawatha, although in fact, as Mr. Hewitt points out in his study of the Iroquois Hiawatha, there is not a point of resemblance between them.9 Manabozho, is the hero of the tales of the Ojibwa of the Lake Superior region, and with greater or less divergence both in name and character, of all the Algonquian tribes from Nova Scotia to the Rocky Mountains.10 He is endowed with the qualities now of a god, now of an ordinary mortal, now of a trickster and dupe, and now, in transformation, of a great rabbit. Hiawatha, on the other hand, was an historical character, an Iroquois statesman of the Mohawk tribe, who flourished about the year 1570. It is to him that the Iroquois owe their League and much of the peace and civilization which characterized them from the first arrival of Europeans.11 For the confusion of this Iroquois lawgiver with the Ojibwa demigod the romantic and unscientific enthusiasm of Schoolcraft is solely responsible. As a result of this confusion,The Song of Hiawatha contains not a single fact or legend relating to the historical Hiawatha, but deals instead with the Ojibwa myth of Manabozho. It becomes our problem, accordingly, to determine how nearly his treatment of the legend represents the actual myth as two generations of investigators have enabled us to piece it together.
The legends of the Ojibwa have in recent years been studied with especial thoroughness,12 both the tales which are in general circulation and those which form a part of the initiation rites of the Grand Medicine Lodge.13 From these myths, supplemented by those of closely related tribes,14 we can construct a generalized form of the legend of Manabozho, both as a culture hero and as a trickster and dupe.
Manabozho is sent to the tribes by Gitche Manitou, the Great Spirit, in order that he may bring them culture and peace.15 Most of these gifts were made permanent through the founding by Manabozho of the Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine Lodge, where the initiate receives them as they have been handed down.16
The legends of the birth of Manabozho—in animal form, the Great Rabbit—are numerous and quite impossible to harmonize. Only the principal versions will here be mentioned. In one of these, Nokomis ("The Earth") is Manabozho's grandmother. She forbids her daughter to look at the sun. The daughter, however, accidentally sees the sun reflected in water and as a result magically conceives.17 According to other versions it is the wind, as in Longfellow, that causes the magic conception.18 As to the manner of the hero's birth, there is a great divergence in the different legends, depending on the number of brothers born at the same time. In some forms of the legend, there are only the hero and his brother Chipiapos, the Wolf;19 in others there is also "Flint"20 and in another group a fourth brother, Wabasso, the White Rabbit.21 The brothers consult before their birth as to their method of being delivered from their mother's body, and Wolf (or more usually Flint) bursts through her side and kills her.
A quite different version tells how Nokomis, the Earth, brings forth Flint, who makes a bowl which gradually fills with blood and becomes Wabus, or Manabozho, the Rabbit.22 A combination of the myths recounts the story of the death of both Manabozho's mother and brother at the time of his birth. Nokomis, the grandmother, hides the survivor under a bowl, and after four days of mourning discovers the White Rabbit, Manabozho.23
After Manabozho becomes a young man, he goes to revenge his mother's death. In some versions, the expedition is directed, as in Longfellow, against the West Wind, the betrayer of his mother.24 In others it is against the rebellious brother who has killed her.25 Manabozho defeats his adversary by deception, as the poem records. He exchanges confidences as to the one thing that will kill him. In exchange for his lie, his opponent tells him the truth, and is thus defeated, though not until a mighty conflict has been waged. Signs of this great battle are still to be seen in the mountains and huge piles of rocks that were thrown about. This battle is but the first of the heroic struggles which he carried on against the evil manitous who in the olden times used their cunning to the injury of men. The great animal-manitous he reduces in power until men can prevail against them.26 The winds he places in their quarters of the world, and he assigns to them their duties.27
One of the most widely known stories of the Manabozho cycle is that of Chipiapos, the Wolf, the hero's brother, who in spite of warning, ventures on the ice of Lake Superior, where he is drowned by the wicked Manitous of the water.28 Manabozho weeps for him so long that his friends, the good Manitous, make a lodge for him and deliver to him the secrets of the medicine man. They bring Chipiapos back from the dead, but permit him to come no further than the opening in the lodge, where they give him a live coal and send him to rule over the land of the dead. This live coal is said to be the symbol of immortality. The form of the story just recounted is that told in the initiation rites of the Ojibwa to explain the origins of their Grand Medicine Lodge.29 It is also the version which Longfellow uses. Other forms of the myth30 (sometimes in connection with the one just given)31 tell how Manabozho masks as a doctor and kills some of Chipiapos' slayers. In other tales he turns himself into a tree to deceive them and shoots them while they are playing ball or la crosse.32 Their evil companions retaliate by causing a flood. To escape this, Manabozho takes refuge in a tree, which magically grows to four times its original height.33 When the flood finally covers the face of the earth, he sends down animals, one after the other, to try to bring up soil. One finally succeeds in bringing a small amount in its paws, and with this the new earth is formed.34 The story of how Manabozho allows himself to be swallowed by the Great Sturgeon and how he kills him from within is found in many tribes in practically the form Longfellow has used.35
In the more recent versions of the legend, some of the myths told of the hero by Longfellow are assigned to other characters. Such is the fast in which Mondamin, the corn, appears.36 Aside from this fact, Longfellow follows the legend exactly. The story of the dropping of Nokomis from the sky to the earth through the treachery of a jealous rival is told in several tribes,37 but concerns a woman quite unrelated to the hero-cycle. The adventures of Pau-Pau-Kee-Wis, described in the poem, are ordinarily told of Manabozho himself.38 In the legend which tells how Fisher let out the summer weather, one recent version confirms Longfellow, but Manabozho is usually the hero.39
Several stories, such as that of "The Son of the Evening Star" and of the visit of the ghosts to Hiawatha, were adapted by the poet from Schoolcraft, but do not appear in later collections. There are, on the other hand, a number of widely-distributed myths which find no place in Longfellow's poem.
Among these is the account of Manabozho's visit to the land of shadows to destroy "The Ghost Gambler." The hero borrows the eyes of the owl in order to see in the dark and with their help liberates the victims who have fallen into the power of the monster.40 One of the best known of the whole group of tales of Manabozho is that concerning the men who make a journey to him and ask for gifts. He grants their prayers for prowess, wealth, and success in love. The man who asks for eternal life, however, is rewarded by being turned into a stone. Manabozho gives the others the power of making their return with magic swiftness.41
In the later collections the final departure of Manabozho appears in many different forms, but they nearly all agree in saying that he is now living in the land of the Northern Lights and that some day he will return to minister to his people.42 Longfellow's joining of the departure of his hero with the arrival of the white man does not seem to be a part of the Indian legend.
In exercising the function of selecting incidents to make an artistic production, Longfellow has omitted all that aspect of the Manabozho saga which considers the culture hero as a trickster. The double character of leader of the people and foolish dupe does not appear to strike the Indian as incongruous,43 but Longfellow would undoubtedly have spoiled his poem for white readers had he included the trickster incidents.
A few of these stories concern Manabozho's grandmother, Nokomis, and her bear lover.44 Others tell of the hero's capturing ducks by inducing them to dance blindfold,45 of his burning himself at the campfire while they are cooking, of his climbing a tree to hold limbs apart out of pure pity because they are creaking, and of the loss of his feast while he is thus ingloriously occupied. Other stories relate different schemes for capturing game, or various vain attempts which he makes to imitate his companions. One, which Longfellow has used as a suggestion, tells of the trickster's being carried aloft by birds and dropped into a hollow tree.
It is this latter type of tale that the Indians delight to tell of Manabozho in their ordinary gatherings. For the initiation ceremonies of the Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine Lodge, they reserve the more serious part of their mythology.46 Even here, however, the trickster element is not entirely lacking; so that the purely serious legend given in the poem cannot be said to represent the incongruous native myth as told to any group.
Broadly speaking, Longfellow had all the elements of the Manabozho cycle at his disposal. In order to give his poem wide artistic appeal, he selected those incidents which he felt to be appropriate to the hero in his character of a man and discarded all those in which he is thought of in animal form, as the Great Rabbit; he used the serious incidents and omitted all those in which Manabozho appears as an undignified trickster.
After all, a comparatively small proportion of The Song of Hiawatha is concerned with the Manabozho myth itself. The poet has, in the first place, all but completely humanized the demigod. Then around him he has woven, usually with a high degree of accuracy, typical experiences of Indian life. He has used such occasions as talks between grandmother and grandson, or wedding celebrations for the telling of such Indian tales as do not relate to the hero himself.47 In this way he has been able to bring together in the poem a large variety of tales, myths, and customs.
Aside from this principle of selecting and recombining his Indian materials, Longfellow has used several devices by means of which he makes his poem conform to established standards of taste. He has improved his material by making it more unified, more conventionally poetic and romantic than he found it. From the Iroquois he took the euphonious name of his hero; and from the Finnish epic, The Kalevala, he adopted his metrical form and received suggestion for some of his best known lines.48 It was also perhaps the same poem that brought vividly before him the device of grouping a mass of incoherent legends around the figure of a central demigod.
His greatest liberties with the legend, however, were with its spirit rather than with details. He introduced into the myth the element of romance to such an extent that to most readers the outstanding fact of the poem is the love making of Hiawatha and Minnehaha, which is entirely the poet's invention. Moreover, he has time and again insisted upon sentiments which form little or no part of Indian feeling, but which do appeal to the civilized reader. This romantic treatment, combined with the omission of all the ignoble qualities and the stressing of all the noble in his hero, has given a dignity and glamor to the poem which has delighted three generations of readers. There can be no doubt, however, that Longfellow has in this very way done violence both to the original myth and to the spirit of the life which he depicts in The Song of Hiawatha.
- Samuel Longfellow, Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Boston, 1893), ii, p. 182.
- Ibid., ii, p. 273.
- Ibid., ii, p. 273 (June 26, 1854).
- Ibid., ii, p. 273 (June 28, 1854).
- Ibid., ii, p. 273 (June 5, 1854).
- Ibid., ii, pp. 298, 303.
- Op. cit., ii, p. 287.
- F. Broilo, Die Quellen des Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha. In so far as I have checked its results, this study of Longfellow's sources appears to be thoroughly and accurately done. As will be seen, the purpose of the present paper is quite different from that of Broilo: it is to ascertain the present status of the Hiawatha legend among the Indians.
- J. B. N. Hewitt, "Hiawatha," Handbook of American Indians (Bulletin Bureau of American Ethnology, xxx, part i, p. 546).
- J. B. N. Hewitt, "Nanabozho," ibid., part ii, p. 19; H. B. Alexander, The Mythology of All Races—vol. x, North American, pp. 38 ff.; also the various references given in notes 12 and 14 below.
- Hewitt, "Hiawatha," loc. cit.
- Writings available to Longfellow were: S. G. Goodrich, Manners, Custms, and Antiquities of the Indians of North and South America (Boston, 1845); John G. E. Heckewelder, An Account of the History, Manners and Customs of the Indian Nations who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States (Philadelphia, 1819); H. R. Schoolcraft, (a) Algic Researches, 2 v. (New York, 1839), (b) Onéota, or the Indian in His Wigwam, etc. (New York and London, 1845), (c) Historical and Statistical Information respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, parts i-vi (Philadelphia, 1851-7); John Tanner, Narrative of Captivity and Adventures among the Indians, etc. (New York, 1830). Longfellow also used several other works not particularly related to the Ojibwa or other Algonquin tribes, especially the following: Catlin, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians, 2 v. (New York and London, 1844); Mrs. Mary H. Eastman, Dahcotah, or Life and Legends of the Sioux around Ft. Snelling (New York, 1849). In addition to these sources, he picked up information in many miscellaneous ways, most of them oral. See Broilo, op. cit.
Subsequent collections of Ojibwa myth are: William Carson, "Ojibwa Tales," Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxx, p. 491; A. F. Chamberlain, (a) "A Mississauga Legend of Nanibojo," ibid., v, p. 291, (b) "Tales of the Mississaugas," ibid., ii, 141, (c) "Nanibozhu amongst the Otchipwe, Mississaugas and other Algonkian Tribes," ibid., iv, p. 193; Albert E. Jenks, "The Bear Maiden," ibid., xv, p. 33; William Jones, (a) "Ojibwa Tales from the North Shore of Lake Superior," ibid., xxix, p. 368, (b) Ojibwa Texts, edited by Truman Michelson (Publications of the American Ethnological Society, vol. vii—part 1, Leyden, 1917, part 2, New York, 1919); J. B. de Josselin de Jong, Original Odjibwe-Texts, with English Translation, Notes, and Vocabulary (Leipzig and Berlin, 1913); J.O. Kinneman, "Chippeway Legends," American Antiquarian, xxxii, p. 96; Julia Knight, "Ojibwa Tales from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.", Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxvi, p. 91; Col. G. E. Laidlaw, "Ojibwa Myths and Tales," Ontario Archeological Reports, 1914, p. 77, 1915, p. 71, 1916, p. 84, 1918, p. 74 (continued in separate reprint issued by the author); Truman Michelson "Ojibwa Tales," Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxiv, p. 249; Paul Radin, Some Myths and Tales of the Ojibwa of Southeastern Ontario (Canadian Geological Survey, Anthropological Series, ii, Ottawa, 1914); H. R. Schoolcraft, The Myth of Hiawatha and Other Oral Legends, etc. (Philadelphia and London, 1856); Alanson Skinner, Manuscript (Ojibwa Tales) cited in Skinner and Satterlee, Folklore of the Menominee Indians, passim; Harlan I. Smith, "Some Ojibwa Myths and Traditions, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xix, 215; F. G. Speck, Myths and Folk-Lore of the Timiskaming Algonquin and Timagami Ojibwa (Canadian Geological Survey, Anthropological Series, viii, Ottawa, 1915).
- See Walter J. Hoffman, The Midewiwin or Grand Medicine Lodge of the Ojibwa (Report Bureau of American Ethnology, vii, Washington, 1896).
- The bibliography of Algonquian myth is very extensive. Collections cited in this paper are the following: Andrew J. Blackbird, Complete both Early and Late History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan (Harbor Springs, Mich., 1897); Rev. Father DeSmet, Oregon Missions and Travels over the Rocky Mountains in 1845-46 (New York, 1847); J. W. Fewkes, "Contributions to Passamaquoddy Folklore," Journal of American Folk-Lore, iii, 265; G. B. Grinnell, Blackfoot Lodge Tales (New York, 1903); Stansbury Hagar, "Weather and Seasons in Micmac Mythology," Journal of American Folk-Lore, x, p. 101; Walter J. Hoffman, The Menomini Indians (Report Bureau of American Ethnology, xiv, Washington, 1896); E. Jack, "Maliseet Legends," Journal of American Folk-Lore, viii, p. 193; William Jones, (a) Fox Texts (Publications of the American Ethnological Society, i, Leyden, 1907), (b) Kickapoo Tales (same series, ix, translated by Truman Michelson, Leyden, 1915), (c) "Episodes in the Culture-Hero Myth of the Sauks and Foxes," Journal of American Folk-Lore, xiv, p. 225; A.L. Kroeber, "Cheyenne Tales," ibid., xiii, p. 161; Charles G. Leland, Algonkin Legends of New England (Boston, 1884); Walter McClintock, The Old North Trail, or Life, Legends, and Religion of the Blackfeet Indians (London, 1910); W. H. Mechling, Malecite Tales (Canadian Geological Survey, Anthropological Series, iv, Ottawa, 1914); S. T. Rand, Legends of the Micmac (New York and London, 1894); Frank Russell, Explorations in the Far North (University of Iowa Publication, Iowa City, 1908); Alanson Skinner, Notes on the Eastern Cree and Northern Saulteaux (Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, ix, pp. 1-178, New York, 1911); Alanson Skinner and John V. Satterlee, Folklore of the Menomini Indians (same series, xiii, pp. 219-546, New York, 1915); F. G. Speck, "Some Naskapi Myths from Little Whale River," Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxviii, p. 70; Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians (Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, ii, pp. 1-164, New York, 1908).
- See Hoffman, Midewiwin, p. 175.
- See Hoffman, Midewiwin, passim.
- Speck, Timagami Ojibwa, p. 28.
- DeJong, Original Odjibwe-Texts, p. 5; Skinner and Satterlee, Menomini Folklore, p. 240; Radin, Ojibwa Myths, p. 12; Jones, Ojibwa Texts, p. 3.
- The Micmac version: cf. Rand, Micmac Legends, No. 60; Leland, Algonkin Legends, p. 15; Jack, Journal of American Folk-Lore, viii, p.194.
- Skinner and Satterlee, Menomini Folklore, p. 241; Blackbird, Ottawa and Chippeway Indians, p. 52. Cf. Hewitt, Iroquois Cosmology, (Report Bureau of American Ethnology, xxi) 185 ff.
- DeSmet, Oregon Missions and Travels, p. 344 (Potawatomi).
- Hoffman, Menomini Indians, p. 87.
- Ibid., p. 114; Jones, Ojibwa Texts, p. 3.
- Radin, Ojibwa Myths, p. 12.
- DeSmet, loc. cit. (Potawatomi); Leland, Algonkin Legends, p. 14 (Micmac); Jack, Journal of American Folk-Lore, viii, p. 194 (Micmac).
- Cf. Jones, Fox Texts, pp. 337 ff.; Jones, Journal of American Folk-Lore xiv, 225 ff.; Hoffman, Menomini Indians, pp. 91, 93, 114; DeSmet, op. cit., p. 244 (Potawatomi).
- DeSmet, op. cit., p. 344 (Potawatomi); Speck, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxviii, p. 70 (Naskapi).
- Skinner and Satterlee, Menomini Folklore, p. 253; Schoolcraft, Hiawatha, p. 35; Skinner manuscript, cited in Skinner and Satterlee, op. cit., p. 519 (Ojibwa); DeJong, Odjibwa Texts, p. 13; Carson, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxx, 491 (Ojibwa); Hoffman, Menomini Indians, pp. 87, 115, 116 (the fullest version); cf. Jones, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xiv, 225 ff. (Sauk and Fox); Jones, Ojibwa Texts, p. 15.
- Hoffman, Menomini Indians, pp. 88, 115; Drake, Indian Tribes, p. 57; DeSmet, op. cit., pp. 344-5 (Ojibwa); Jones, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xiv, 225 ff. (Sauk and Fox).
- Skinner and Satterlee, Menomini Folklore, p. 260; Skinner manuscript, cited ibid., p. 520 (Plains Ojibwa and Cree); Schoolcraft, Hiawatha, p. 40 (Ojibwa); Skinner, Northern Saul-teaux, p. 174; Russell, Explorations in the Far North, p. 207 (Cree); Jones, Fox Texts, p. 355; Jones, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xiv, pp. 225 ff. (Sauk and Fox); DeJong, Odjibwa-Texts, p. 14; Lowie, Northern Shoshone, p. 241; Dorsey, The Thegiha Language, p. 240 (Omaha).
- Cf. Jones, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xiv, pp. 225 ff. (Sauk and Fox).
- Schoolcraft, Hiawatha, p. 38 (Ojibwa); DeJong, Odjibwa-Texts, p. 14; Skinner, Northern Sault-eaux, p. 174; Russell, Explorations, p. 206 (Woods Cree); Blackbird, Ottawa and Chippeway Indians, p. 54 (Ottawa); Skinner and Satterlee, Menomini Folklore, p. 255; Skinner manuscript, cited ibid., p. 519 (Plains Ojibwa); Hoffman, Menomini Indians, p. 133; Radin, Ojibwa Myths, pp. 20, 23. Cf. Jones, Fox Texts, p. 353.
- See the Schoolcraft, DeJong, Skinner manuscript, Radin, and Hoffman references in note 32. Cf. also Carson, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxx, 490 (Ojibwa).
- This incident occurs in the folk-lore of the Indian tribes of every part of North America. For exhaustive references, see Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxx, p. 422. In connection with this story it occurs in the references given in note 33.
- Skinner and Satterlee, Menomini Folklore, p. 272; Hoffman, Menomini Indians, pp. 88, 125 (latter exactly as in Longfellow); Schoolcraft, Hiawatha, p. 21 (Ojibwa); Carson, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxx, p. 492; Blackbird, op. cit., p. 55 (Ottawa); Mooney, Cherokee Myths, p. 320; DeJong, Odjibwe-Texts, pp. 10,11. Cf. Skinner, Eastern Cree, p. 101.
- See Chamberlain, Journal of American Folk-Lore, ii, p. 142 (Mississauga).
- Jones, Fox Texts, p. 101; Schoolcraft, Onéota, p. 116 (Ojibwa); Lowie, Assiniboine Tales (Siouan stock), Miscellaneous Tales, No. 4.
- One of these incidents is the carrying of the hero by birds or the giving of wings to him. For references see Skinner and Satterlee, Meno-mini Folklore, pp. 520-522. Another concerns the catching of game by the hero, who feigns death. References for the latter are: Skinner and Satterlee, Menominee Folklore, p. 292; Skinner manuscript, cited ibid., p. 521 (Eastern Dakota, Iowa, and Ojibwa); Jones, Kickapoo Tales, p. 129 (Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo); Jones, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xiv, pp. 225 ff. (Fox); Mooney, Cherokee Myths, p. 293; Dorsey, Thegiha Language, p. 77 (Omaha); Lowie, Assiniboine Tales, p. 107; Radin, Ojibwa Myths, p. 19.
- Carson, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxx, p. 492 (Ojibwa); Skinner and Satterlee, Menomini Folklore, p. 243; Hoffman, Menomini Indians, p. 126; DeJong, Odjibwe-Texts, pp. 6, 7.
- Hoffman, Midewiwin, p. 280 (Ojibwa).
- Skinner and Satterlee, Menomini Folklore, p. 487; Skinner manuscript, cited ibid., p. 538 (Plains Ojibwa); Hoffman, Menomini Indians, pp. 118-20, 206; Jack, Journal of American Folk-Lore, viii, p. 193 (Maliseet); Rand, Micmac Legends, Nos. 35, 43, etc.; Hagar, Journal of American Folk-Lore, x, p. 101 (Micmac); Jones, Fox Texts, p. 333; Jones, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxix, 389 (Ojibwa); Schoolcraft, Algic Researches, ii, p. 51 (Ojibwa); Leland, Algonkin Legends, p. 98.
- Cf. Leland, Algonkin Legends, pp. 66, 130; Hoffman, Menomini Indians, p. 199; Jack, Journal of American Folk-Lore, viii, 193 (Maliseet); Jones, ibid., xiv, pp. 225 ff. (Sauk and Fox); Speck, ibid., xxviii, p. 60 (Micmac); Laidlaw, Ontario Arch. Rep., xxvii, p. 85 (Ojibwa).
- Radin, Journal of American Folk-Lore, xxvii, p.359.
- Hoffman, Menomini Indians, p. 174; Skinner and Satterlee, Menomini Folklore, p. 249; Schoolcraft, Hiawatha, p. 27 (Ojibwa). With slight variations the story is very widespread, especially among the plains tribes. Cf. Dorsey, Thegiha Language, p. 19 (Omaha).
- There is hardly an Algonquian tribe that does not tell this series of trickster incidents. Scores of references could be cited. For those of the closely related Algonquian tribes see Skinner and Satterlee, Menomini Folklore, pp. 520-522.
- See Hoffman, Menomini Indians, pp. 161-2.
- See Life of H. W. Longfellow, vol. ii, p. 301 (Letter from Schoolcraft to Longfellow).
- For example, compare the following passages:
Lo! the time has come for Aino
From this cruel world to hasten,
To the kingdom of Tuoni,
To the realm of the departed,
To the isle of the hereafter.
—Kalevala, Rune 4 (Crawford's translation)
Thus departed Hiawatha,
Hiawatha the Beloved,
In the glory of the sunset,
In the purple mists of evening,
To the regions of the home-wind,
Of the Northwest wind Keewadin,
To the islands of the Blessed,
To the kingdom of Ponemah,
To the Land of the Hereafter!
—Hiawatha, canto 21, end. Broilo cites other interesting parallels
Margaret C. Howell (review date December 1983)
SOURCE: Howell, Margaret C. Review of The Song of Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. School Library Journal 30, no. 12 (December 1983): 58.
With large pastel paintings detailing the young Indian boy's life and his natural surroundings, [Susan] Jeffers has illustrated part of the childhood section of the poem Hiawatha starting with, "By the shores of Gitche Gumee" and ending with the stanza, "Of all beasts he learned the language.…" She has beautifully illuminated the stanzas with details based on the poem. In the painting illustrating the animal stanza she portrays Hiawatha and Nokomis in a field surrounded by deer, rabbits, beavers and squirrels, some partially hidden by the tall grasses and trees. "When he heard the owls at midnight …" is illustrated by three large snowy owls on one page while on the facing page an obviously frightened Hiawatha sits listening to Nokomis tell him what he has heard. These are only two examples of how well Jeffers has captured the essence of this brief section from the classic poem. As in her other works, the pale tints of the pictures are in complete harmony with nature and with the text and show in detail how Hiawatha might have seen his world. A fine first exposure to the poem for children and a beautiful artistic experience.
Barbara Keifer (review date April 1984)
SOURCE: Keifer, Barbara. Review of The Song of Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. English Journal 73, no. 4 (April 1984): 92.
Occasionally a picture book comes along that merits the attention of English teachers. Such a book is Hiawatha. In this beautifully illustrated version of Longfellow's poem, the artist has chosen to focus on that section of the poem that deals with Hiawatha's boyhood. To help young readers realize that the book is only an excerpt from the classic poem, [Susan] Jeffers depicted in the opening endpapers of the book the "essence of the preceding verses." At the book's end, Jeffers provides illustrations of what happens later in the poem.
Hiawatha is one of the most beautiful picture books published recently. It adds a new dimension to Long-fellow's epic poem of the young American Indian who prepares to become a leader of his people, and the beginning and ending pictures will provide the motivation for students to go on and read the entire poem.
Carolyn Phelan (review date August 1988)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of The Song of Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Keith Moseley. Booklist 84, no. 22 (August 1988): 1928.
Pared down from the five thousand lines of the original poem to less than seven hundred here, this pop-up book [The Song of Hiawatha ] gives the gist, the feeling, and the language of Hiawatha, if not the whole story. (Only the cataloging in publication data indicates that this is an abridgement.) The subdued tones of [Keith] Moseley's lovely watercolors create a quiet, dignified, understated setting. Paper engineering is well done: Hiawatha draws his bow, his canoe glides through reeds, a beaver fells a tree, and so forth. Since there are no tabs to push, pull, or turn, this book should hold up better than the more interactive pop-ups designed for preschoolers. Although beautiful picture-book versions of "Hiawatha's Childhood" are available, this volume makes more of the poem accessible to children who might be daunted by the length of the original in its entirety.
Joe Lockard (essay date winter 2000)
SOURCE: Lockard, Joe. "The Universal Hiawatha." American Indian Quarterly 24, no. 1 (winter 2000): 110-25.
[In the following essay, Lockard gives an account of the influences behind and the publication history of The Song of Hiawatha.]
Even while he faded into a well-remembered but little-read figure as America put away its McGuffey Readers, in the world at large Hiawatha came to emblematize the Indian, pre-Contact Native American culture, and the inevitability of post-Contact submission to an Europeanized history. Internationally,The Song of Hiawatha has been more popular than ever over this generation. As many new translations were published from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s as appeared in the decade following Hiawatha's advent in 1855.1 Altogether since its publication,Song of Hiawatha has appeared in some forty-five languages and more than eighty translation editions. In this essay, I examine how Song of Hiawatha and its stereo-types of the Native function in a global economy of translation; how diverse ideologies seize and interpret Longfellow's work; and particularly how literary nationalism informs translation decisions.
To contextualize the internationalization of Hiawatha as the American literary Indian of choice, remember that Hiawatha was a transnational figure from conception. Relocating Hiawatha into an originating and continuing transnational diffuseness removes this poem from its questionable discussion within a canonized line of American national epics.2 Moreover, the cross-cultural syncretism that produced Song of Hiawatha might either interrogate the poem's Americanness, or advocate the poem as a quintessentially American cultural amalgamation.
This epic was the literary result of a recombinatory chain of translations, mistranslations, and heavily refashioned source narratives. As is less well known today than at the time of publication, the poem's epic color, form, and meter were taken from the Finnish national epic Kalevala, itself an oral folk poetry assemblage published in 1835 by Elias Lönrott. Later, the Kalevala was translated into German, in which form it reached Longfellow's desk in Cambridge. Simultaneously reaching west as well as east, Longfellow derived his poem's narrative content from the ethnologist and Indian agent Henry Rowe School-craft's Algic Researches.3 Although Schoolcraft preferred not to acknowledge his intellectual debt, his mixed-blood wife, Jane Johnston, and her storytelling family provided both the original Chippewa stories and oral translations into English.4 When born on America's northeastern seaboard in the mid-nineteenth century, Hiawatha was the mixed-blood Chippewa-Finnish progeny of an intellectual marriage between reports from a conquered tribal nation to the west and national revisionism to the east.
That Schoolcraft's text substantially distorted Chippewa beliefs and stories is unquestionable, although he professed a desire to record and publish these to exemplify the Red Man's nobility. Longfellow, misplacing his faith in Schoolcraft's credibility as an anthropological observer, viewed Hiawatha as a faithful rendering of tribal stories, and the reading public shared a similar regard. Yet Longfellow continued this chain of distortions. One sign of his "raw clay" approach to literary transformation of Chippewa culture lies in the poem's title. Longfellow disregarded the Chippewa name Manabozho and substituted Hiawatha, an Iroquoian name, because it was more manageable in an English-language poem.5 This complete renaming was hardly the standard of literalism buttressed by "slight and judicious embellishments" that, in a European context, Longfellow set himself for his translation from the Spanish of Coplas de Don Jorge Manrique.6 As ethnographic pretense, Longfellow's storytelling contributed substantially to the body of fakelore that has sought to reenunciate historic and lost glories, a body that includes Macpherson's Ossian forgeries, Lönrott's Kalevala, and other national pseudoepics.7
Translation constitutes an endorsement of Hiawatha as an "authentic" cultural object, or at least one whose representational deficiencies can be rationalized broadly as those common to narrative processes. As a body,Hiawatha translators have near uniformly accepted this conceit of a fidelity between "Indianness" and Longfellow's representations of Native subjects; indeed, their acceptance of the proposition empowers and enables their translations. To question the social construction of a generic Indian would inhibit or disable the translator's project in the face of conscientious participation in its transparent falsities, hollowness, and anti-ethicism. Almost by definition, Hiawatha 's translators are among its most credulous readers. Ferdinand Freiligrath, a German poet and friend with whom Longfellow collaborated on an early German translation, stated in his introduction to the poem, "We may assume that he has faithfully and without addition of foreign elements reproduced for us the Indian tradition; and even where he had to add his own insights to weave together loose ends, he used moderation and artistic self-restraint."8 If the impossibility of faithful oral-to-textual reproduction or the contradiction between translative fidelity and judicious amendment seem obvious today, times and credulity were different during the mid-nineteenth century when the first wave of Hiawatha translations appeared. One exception to this prevailing credulousness, probably born from a sense of literary caution, appears in the preface of the first French translation of 1860 where the translator writes:
When Longfellow presents his poetry as part of the Indians' sacred literature, almost as a faithful translation, is he speaking truth or just permitting himself that fiction so common among poets? And if he speaks truth, until what point did he make a necessity of faithfully reproducing the original's forms and ideas? In a word, to what degree did Longfellow, relative to Indian traditions, fill the role of MacPherson relative to Gaelic legends?9
For this insight an obscure translator, Henri Augustin Gomont, should be remembered for his singularity among Longfellow translators in expressing such scruples.
Previous work has characterized processes of narrative exchange neutrally as "intercultural migration" and "intercultural transfer."10 This terminology is inadequate, for it conceals and dismisses acts of expropriation. Through its camouflage of agency, narrative origin and storytelling rights remain unacknowledged, cultural directionality disappears, and accumulation and/or diminution of social power proceed without critical signposting. In this descriptive regime for translation, history ends. The epic's Indian demigod hero disappears, an epoch and a culture come to an end, and Longfellow's believing readers continue on, conscience fortified, into the continuum of a bland and perfected American history. It is fitting that Longfellow concluded Song of Hiawatha with an English-language lexicon of Native terms, a gesture that serves a dual role as poetic self-authentication and as an attempted termination in a mass of linguistic fragments that no longer make sense outside an English-language framework. The Native-word list repeats the original storytelling language but Native coherence no longer attains.
As American literature,Song of Hiawatha can be located within the prevailing tradition of Euro-American representation of Native Americans. Over seventy Indian-based novels appeared in the United States between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, together with uncounted short stories, poems, and verse. During the 1820s an initial wave of sentimental writers—including Lydia Sigourney, Lydia Maria Child, and James Wallis Eastburn and Robert Sands—popularized techniques of authorial borrowing that prevailed for decades. In their efforts to fashion a distinct national literature, these writers immersed themselves in Native American folklore and ethnography. Their narrative borrowing, their embroidery through poetic naturalism, and their outright invention of a nominally Indian voice set the discourse terms for later expropriations of Native voice and stories.
By mid-century, a now-recognized critical backlash against sentimentalism had formed.11 For critics who embraced a belief in manifest European superiority, the sentimentalization of Indians was an especially inviting target, exemplified in the rough reception given to Song of Hiawatha. One reviewer wrote, "Have we not had enough of these Red Indians—nay, rather too much of them—since the days when Fenimore Cooper, from his pleasant dream of The Last of the Mohicans, deluded our young fancies into believing that the conquering white race had destroyed a transatlantic Arcadia, in which the quiet enjoyment of Theocritus's sheperds was combined with the valour of Homer's heroes?"12 Another review in Longfellow's hometown Boston Daily Evening Traveler read: "We cannot but suppress a regret that our own pet national poet should not have selected as the theme of his muse something higher and better than the silly legends of the savage aborigines. His poem does not awaken one sympathetic throb; it does not teach a single truth; and rendered into prose,Hiawatha would be a mass of the most childish nonsense that ever dropped from human pen."13 While American reviews were mixed, the novelty effect of an "Indian edda" as Longfellow called his poem, was more persuasive in Europe, where it is difficult to discover an unfavorable review.14 This sense of ethnographic discovery among European readers energized the poem's early translators and aided its nineteenth-century diffusion.
Nineteenth-century narratives relied broadly on the cultural shorthand of stereotypes that rendered vectors of race, class, and sex in immediately recognizable form.15 Applied to Indians, such conventions constituted a distinctly American innovation on the received European tradition of sentimentalism, built largely on a presumptive white raciality, and an attempt by American writers to escape prior formulas. Their storytelling expropriations dislocated Native stories from an oral tradition in order to claim them for a developing American sentimental tradition relating to racialism. Disappearing braves and dying tribal elders populate these American fictions rather than star-crossed young English gentry. In this vein, Sigourney's 1820s vision of an apotheosized "Pocahantas" prefigures Hiawatha's even more popular 1855 apotheosis:16 "And the people from the margin / Watched him floating, rising, sinking, / Till the birch canoe seemed lifted / High into that sea of splendour."17 Heroicized sentimental Indians tended to float heavenward with substantial regularity.
There was a clear overlap between the memento mori poetry of the sentimental tradition and its images of a sweet death overtaking an ancient race of Indians. In Hiawatha 's "Death of Minnehaha" canto, for example, we encounter the canons of sentimentalism employed to explain the passage of a race in a white-identified need for historical self-fulfillment. Struck down by a metaphoric winter famine, the tribe's racial uplift follows Minnehaha's death. Her death releases Hiawatha from the constraints of domesticity and toward the call of a greater Promethean destiny. Spring, French missionaries, and Christian conversion arrive together in harmonious conjunction at the poem's end.
As adaptive usage of Chippewa source material, the American version of Song of Hiawatha provided an explanatory narrative for a transcontinental transition from aboriginal inhabitation to white racial dominance, from darkness to light, from unfulfillment to fulfillment, and from abased to ennobled consciousness.
Having sketched the ideology of Hiawatha as a Chippewa-to-American rendition in its own right, let us turn to Europe and deal briefly with a set of Hiawatha translations in Flemish, Latin, Hebrew, Russian, Polish, French, and Yiddish.18
Given the cultural mutation Hiawatha experienced in America, it should not be entirely surprising to discover that his function continued to mutate in Europe. One function that Hiawatha served in Europe was as a vehicle for elite discourses on education, religion, and social purpose. Two editions that provided this literary service were the Flemish and Latin, both the work of translators characterized by simultaneous measures of intellectual archaism and reformist spirit. The richness and malleability of meaning in Longfellow's epic attracted their attention for its romantic possibility, even as they arrived at the text with entirely different purposes.
One of the first Hiawatha translations was begun in 1856, only a year after Longfellow had published his poem. Guido Gezelle, a poet, priest, and central figure in nineteenth-century Flemish intellectual history, translated the fifth canto of Song of Hiawatha and published it in the journal Vlaemsch Land. Gezelle was drawn to the poem for its Christographic content superimposed upon an as-yet unmissionized New World scene. In poetic terms, Gezelle found Hiawatha 's alliteration and parallelism appealing for what he believed incorporated a primitive spirit. In pedagogical terms, many of Gezelle's students were bound for missions in America, and they employed the poem as a discussion text that responded to their career aspirations. Gezelle himself responded to the text similarly, having been swept away as a young priest by the Paulist idea that if England and America could be converted to the Catholic faith, then the most powerful empire since Rome would be converted. Longfellow's poem exercised a perhaps inevitable attraction in an atmosphere of Catholic missionary idealism. However, the same preoccupation with spiritual challenge tended to limit the translation's readership to a religious elite that sought ideological self-confirmation and inspiration. This was not a popular edition, as its readership was limited by both the substantial degree of illiteracy prevailing in the Lowlands of the period and by the somewhat elevated literary language Gezelle employed. Nonetheless, the Flemish translation of Hiawatha has been attributed a significant part in sparking a fever for epics that spread through late-nineteenth-century Flemish culture.19 In his flexible, cross-cultural, messianic signification, Hiawatha functioned as a fresh romantic possibility, a new spiritual limitlessness ascribed to an unknown geography. For Gezelle and his students, Hiawatha's apotheosis promised opportunities for Christian missionizing replication and European self-sanctification.
In 1862, a brief seven years after Longfellow published Hiawatha, Frances William Newman published his abridged Latin translation. It was Newman's second venture into literary translation, the first having been a Latin rendition of Robinson Crusoe. His motives in producing this translation apparently did not derive from the religious Latinism of his family: he was the younger brother of John Cardinal Newman but did not share his brother's famous conversion to Catholicism. Rather, Frances Newman was a classicist and professor of Latin at University College, London. His object in translating both Robinson Crusoe and Hiawatha was pedagogical, "to afford to learners of Latin a pleasing book which will smooth their way to some of the difficulties of the language and allure them to enlarge their vocabulary."20 Of course, the Latin neologism for wampum (murex, or seashells) might have limited practical use. Newman argued though that Livy, Virgil, and Ovid presented excessive difficulty for beginning students, who ought to be encouraged to learn a language first and its literature afterward. So Hiawatha was drafted into reformist service as a substitute for the rigors of Ovidian couplets. The Latinate Hiawatha was bowdlerized, however, for, as the translator explained to both author and audience, "I trust… he will forgive my large liberty, not only of abridgement, but of arbitrary alteration, especially where the native legends which he has followed appeared to me too puerile, tedious and obscure."21Newman used Hiawatha as an object to be elevated from popular culture, cleansed of Native roughness, and refashioned into a neoclassical epic as an introduction to real classical epics. In this Victorian pedagogy,Hiawatha 's popularity identified it for service as a steppingstone toward a higher culture.
Although conceptually an epic of cultural modernization, the aura of nineteenth-century romanticism attached to Hiawatha throughout the twentieth century. Illogically perceived as an anti-modernist work, the poem came to epitomize an appeal for spiritual reorganization, escape from mundane civilization, and a dream-space for European imagination struggling against its constraints. The Song of Hiawatha , in the words of a French translator in 1927, was an "idealized tableau of American life long ago, far long ago, before the Machine's reign."22 In a similar vein of antimodernism, art Italian critic wrote in 1920 that for Italian readers the epic had interest "as poetic expression of legends and ideas of a human race almost completely destroyed or absorbed by so-called modern civilization," although that expression would be more accurately understood as a Euro-American discussion of the features of modernism.23
As advanced technological societies that perceived themselves as having achieved "maturity" searched out descriptions of civilizational hierarchy, the metaphors of juvenilia were consistently employed to describe "pre-civilizations" and to justify colonial behaviors. This civilizational presumption translated into a literary taxonomy that assigned a status of juvenile literature to Song of Hiawatha and its Native actors. If the colonial subject was a child needing guidance, then the colonial subject as narrative was suitable for children. Thus Song of Hiawatha, a work demanding an adult reading capacity, was deemed most appropriate for children.
A significant group of European translations emerge from and are bound up with childhood associations and their romances. The little comment that Hiawatha 's best-known and most honored translator, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ivan Bunin, made concerning his Russian translation was delivered in such terms. He declared, "I was working with ardent love for a book that was dear to me since childhood, and with great conscientiousness, as this was a small homage of my gratitude to a great poet who gave me much pure and lofty joy."24 Another writer born in Russia, Saul Tschernichowsky, a master figure of twentieth-century Hebrew poetry, recalled in the preface to his 1913Song of Hiawatha translation that he was first introduced to Longfellow through Russian translations published in a children's magazine: "I was a child when I first read Hiawatha. …Mysoul was bound to that song and my love was faithful until I was able to read it in the original. Who can fathom my feelings as I first read it in its entirety!…and in the Town Library of Odessa, where I first obtained Longfellow's writings, I translated several passages aloud to the sound of seagulls screaming."25 In this passage, Tschernichowsky constructs a juvenile romantic subjectivity through absence, distance, and a refiguring of realism's limits. His associative invocation of sea gulls rising over the library suggests imagination straining against gravity and Nature's tides exerting themselves in a young persona. Through memories of Hiawatha, an adult re-achieves the grandeur of a child's imagination. Tschernichowsky's romantic narrative position in the Odessa town library approximates that found in Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality," wherein an autobiographical narrator casts back for the sources of juvenile innocence amid an intellectualizing over-narration, all voiced in tandem with the animated spirits of a living world. In Song of Hiawatha this same parallel dialecticism resonates between primitive imagery and heroic development, between an unimproved reality and messianic promise. "My soul was bound to that song and my love was faithful," wrote Tschernichowsky with the declarative phrases of a romantic heart. For a young boy caught up in Russia's haskalitic tail currents,Hiawatha simultaneously embodied an old epic textuality and an inviting new foreignness. A bibliocentric regard for sacred texts and the irresistibleness of secular appeal inhabit Tschernichowsky's declaration of faithfulness, a duality that offered a bridge between Hebrew soul and foreign idyll. Hiawatha 's romanticism framed an intellectual window for translating more than words; it provided an exit into new form, poetic vision, and the Hebrew Renaissance. That same sense of cultural renaissance, with its deep resonances of youthfulness revisited, drew Tschernichowsky into prolonged engagement with the literature of his own youth. The interlacing of an ideology of national rejuvenation with the juvenile appeal of Hiawatha made this text a psychologically resonant translation choice.
Faithfulness to Hiawatha gave Tschernichowsky motivation to learn English in order to translate the poem into Hebrew, a task he began in 1894 at age nineteen. It was his first major translation and appeared after nearly twenty years of scrupulous aesthetic revisions and numerous personal migrations.26 By 1925 and the occasion of Tschernichowsky's fiftieth birthday, the Hebrew Song of Hiawatha earned praise as "the most outstanding poetic translation in our literature."27 Ten years later, on the author's sixtieth birthday,Hiawatha appeared as part of an expensive multivolume set containing Tschernichowsky's collected works, published under subsidy from the Mandate-era Jewish community government in Palestine. This is less a bibliographic detail than a significant marking point of the Universal Hiawatha 's draft into the service of linguistic nationalism, one at which the poem's translation served to showcase the consolidation of neo-Hebraic cultural achievement.28
Exploring the translation history of Hiawatha, the poem appears again and again as a hyper-reflective translation source text, as a Darnacon spring to the translator's Narcissus. Translators see the visions they wish to see on the reflective surface of the text, and these visions mirror entirely contradictory narcissistic social self-images. A supple ideological reflexiveness in the Hiawatha text enables its readers to gaze into either nationalistic or universalistic self-reflections, a point that can be elucidated by comparing the Polish and Yiddish translations. In Europe, Song of Hiawatha attracted both translators and readers for its capacity to touch wellsprings of romantic national conceit. Hiawatha 's Promethean gifts of auto-consciousness, maize ("Blessing the Corn-fields" canto), and written language ("Picture-Writing" canto) functioned as analogs for nationalism's own aspirations toward such spiritual and material provision. Incorporating romantic national heroism into one life-giving persona,Hiawatha spread through nineteenth-century Europe as a self-reflexive national imaginary, most notably in Central European and Baltic language translations. Feliks Tezierski summarized this national self-reflexiveness in a preface to the 1860 Polish translation that is worth quoting at length:
The principal motive of our attempting the translation of Hiawatha has been perhaps created, among many other impulses, by the wonderful kinship, amounting to a family likeness, which that poem seems to bear towards the Slavonic spirit. The singer of Hiawatha appeared to us the incarnation of a spiritual relation between two spirits of poetry; it seemed to us that he had transferred our own songs to the virgin forests of America. And truly, does not his arduous, instinctive love of deeds, his admiration of primitive manners, his pathos, spring from a serious, northern contemplative mood and give true expression to our own spirit?…Is there but little of something which may be called peculiarly Polish in his images and pictures, his diction, his very rhythm, in the solemn attitude of his poetical heart, in his worship of nature and humanity, as embodied in a race—in a nation?29
Longfellow kept the Polish edition on his bookshelf, together with a handwritten insert translating these preface passages. Possibly Longfellow chuckled, for he would have remembered Karl Bindel's 1857 German translation that nominated him "the most German of North American poets," and Freiligrath declared that "only Longfellow had discovered America for the Americans."30 We do not know Longfellow's reaction to such claims, but their importance lies in a translator's adoption of Longfellow and Hiawatha as blood brothers of the national soul. The "family likeness" that Tezierski finds couches itself in an atavistic nationalism, one that ascribes a unified Slavonic spirit emerging from a primal consciousness and that inscribes this spirit onto the geography of a distant New Poland. In this reading,Song of Hiawatha reenacts the fusion of language, race, and nation, that fundamental Fichtean political postulate. This translator's preface contains a clear echo of Fichte's esteem for "primitivism" as an invigorating force in language or nation.31 And indeed, turning again to the final passages of Hiawatha, we see that, once unified as a race through Hiawatha's leadership, the tribe achieves a unitary spirit that can be expressed as nationalism, a nationhood that is now to be consummated by the arrival of the Catholic "Black Robes" for spiritual guidance. Given the troubled history of nineteenth-century Polish nationalism and its search for intellectual consolidation, a para-Polish reading of Hiawatha as national consolidator seems entirely viable.
The translation patterns of Hiawatha reveal a clear sociopolitical motive of assertion by small-language nationalism. Of the twenty European language translations published in the first half-century after Hiawatha 's 1855 appearance, only three represent comparatively small European languages (Danish, Dutch, and Greek). Of the fifteen published between the turn of the century and the start of World War II, eight are from small-language traditions. The majority of this latter group came from small northern European countries witnessing the cultural difficulties inherent in establishing or maintaining political autonomy: Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, and Latvia. This duster points both to the service Hiawatha provided to nationalist intellectuals through translations and to ideological demands for vernacular publication of "world classics" in order to substantiate a discrete national culture.
Hiawatha served universalism together with particularism. The Yiddish version of Song of Hiawatha, translated by Yehoash (pseudonym for Solomon Blumgarten) and published in New York in 1910, relies upon a quite opposite ideological argument for translation. In a lengthy theoretical introduction to Yehoash's translation of the poem, Chaim Zhitlowski argues that Hiawatha 's value lies in its universalism. He writes:
Immersing oneself in the psychology of the entire Indian people, empathizing with their troubles and pains—since these are basically the same troubles and pain that torment people everywhere—can begin to erode emotionally the sense of national particularity, the hostile opposition between the national "I" and the national "You." In its place begins to grow a sense of solidarity which must finally bind all peoples into a broth-erly family, into one free union of nationalities, in which each people can develop itself undisturbed, achieving everything it has in its own heart, and helping every other nationality in the general program for universal betterment.32
For Yiddish readers, according to Zhitlowski, this poem—and translated literature generally—offered a vista for a Jewish understanding of the Other. Phrasing this as a communal critique, Zhitlowski suggested that "in our emotional lives the difficulties of the Diaspora have rendered our souls so narrow that we have forgotten that 'thou shalt love the stranger, for you understand the stranger's heart.' We have ceased to understand the heart of the non-Jew, and our entire atmosphere is so filled with chauvinism, small-minded hatred for others, that we will soon run out of air to breathe."33Hiawatha , sitting in a vigvam in his Yiddish incarnation, was enlisted here for the reform of ghetto insularity and in behalf of cross-cultural empathy.
Zhitlowski's sentiments are rare. Throughout these translation prefaces, thought or consideration for the realities of Native American existence are almost entirely absent. In a few twentieth-century editions, Song of Hiawatha emerges as a symbolic representation of the harms inflicted against Native American culture rather than as pail: of that harm. We encounter such a reversal in the preface to M. Richard's French translation of 1927, which, while regretting "the brutal contact between the first English and the Indian" portrayed white civilization as undertaking the functions of tribal memory. In Richard's interpretation, "Upon becoming the uncontested masters, they said to themselves: 'Let not fall into entire forgetfulness this race which we are making disappear!'"34 Under the terms of Richard's historical revision, Schoolcraft secures appointment as a senior archivist of Indian memory and it devolves upon Longfellow to render "the gracious traditions of this agonised people" into gracious English poetry.35 The task of this economy of narrative appropriation thus becomes a sparking of human decency in public policy by reciting the stories of its victims. According to Richard, upon reading Hiawatha, "Even those who are uninterested in the Indian race love this poem because it makes each conscienceless fiber twinge, it awakens a buried store of common humanity."36 Given the historical consequences of white-native contact, obviously the poem either entirely failed to awaken conscience, or it achieved negligible results upon doing so. Hiawatha is an artifact of that encounter, not its remedy.
Finally, perhaps the most astonishing, ironic, and ideologically complicated version of Hiawatha appeared with its 1900 translation into Chippewa. That is to say, having been exported by Schoolcraft to white culture for renarration, the resulting derivative was now reimported to Chippewa culture as a definitive representation of Chippewa belief. The only truly Chippewa Hiawatha was an invented, fictional character reclaimed from white culture as a lost signifier, an inversion of a simulacrum to create a new authenticity. The Chippewa Hiawatha arrived, startlingly, in the form of an opera libretto.37 Its author, producer, and promoter was Louis Armstrong, a white Canadian Pacific Railroad official residing in Montreal who spent his summers in Desbarats, Ontario. Armstrong (who called himself Waubungo in Chippewa) conceived the idea of translating portions of Song of Hiawatha and presenting it outdoors at lakeside with Native actors as a Native passion play. The libretto was published by the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1901 with "how to get there" information as an inducement to tourists. For publicity, Armstrong arranged a visit by Longfellow's daughters at which they would become honorary tribal members. Reporting that event, one Boston newspaper located its understanding of Song of Hiawatha when it wrote:
Especially it is a marked homage from American Indians from a white person to be so received, and yet we may take it that these surviving redmen expressed a deep and sincere national feeling in electing the poet's daughters as daughters of their tribes. They have, furthermore, done wisely as well as kindly, for the song of Hiawatha is a beautiful memorial and an eloquent plea for their race and their history.38
The Armstrong libretto spun off a musical score by composer Frederick Burton. A road-show musical Hiawatha successfully went on tour and appeared in Madison Square Garden in 1904, accompanied by the New York Hiawatha Orchestra and a chorus of sixty singers.39 The original show fell into disorganization after running at Desbarats for a couple of years.40 It was picked up by Chippewas from the Garden River reservation adjoining Sault Ste. Marie, who continued to perform it as a passion play for decades thereafter.41
The few available descriptions of the original performance come from journalistic sources. Watching the performance together with the Longfellow daughters' party, the correspondent for another Boston newspaper described it as follows:
Hiawatha of the poem is the Hiawatha of the play, and it needs only reasonable familiarity with the poem to follow the action of the play understandingly, even though it is given in the Ojibway tongue. There is so much reverence for Hiawatha or Manabozho—we will not pause to explain historical and literary distinctions—in the minds of the Ojibways that when they present their national drama they enter upon it with almost religious enthusiasm. Hiawatha to them is little short of a Passion Play.… Although the Indians wereincited by a white man to a presentation of their tribal legends in the form of a play, the enterprise or function is directly in line with efforts originating with their own chiefs for the perpetuation of their mythology and ancient ceremonials.42
This report elevates and positions Song of Hiawatha in the status of an Anishanabe national drama, one whose performance has assumed a quasi-religious function. What began as "the silly legends of the savage aborigines" has achieved a Fichtean consolidation as a drama of national mythification. On this occasion, Hiawatha achieves his full stature as a white fiction who has found a Native culture to define, a service that credulous Natives will literally perform before and for him. In the newspaper account's unconscious reading, Longfellow's invented Indian savior—a white man's Indian if one ever existed—has been reintegrated into the tribal line from which he never emerged.
So, at last, we arrive at a perverse circularity in which expropriated and mistranslated Native stories have been retranslated into a new "nativeness" and voiced by those from whom the stories were first taken.
The author wishes to acknowledge translation assistance from Boaz Arpali, Evgenii Bershtain, Charlotte Fonrobert, Ewa Pagacz, Bernardo Parella, Naomi Seidman, and Annette Teunis. A. Robert Lee, Mike Rotkin and Gerald Vizenor gave encouragement. Special thanks to Zohar Trifon for research assistance; to the InterLibrary Loan staff, University of California-Berkeley; and to Jim Shay and Michelle Clarke at the Longfellow National Historical Site, U.S. Park Service.
- In the first decade after the poem appeared, a total of nine translations were published, beginning with German in 1856-59 (four); Danish, French, and Polish in 1860; and Dutch and Latin in 1862. From 1976 to 1985, twelve translations were published, including into Korean and Moldavian in 1976; Swedish in 1978; Georgian in 1979; Euskadi and Lithuanian in 1981; Ukranian in 1983; German in 1984 (tenth German translation since original publication); and Chinese, Finnish, and Kazahstani in 1985.
- For a treatment of Hiawatha as a representative American national epic, see Charlotte Kretzoi, "Puzzled Americans: Attempts at an American National Epic Poem" in The Origins and Originality of American Culture, ed. Tibor Frank (Budapest: Akademia Kiado; Atlantic Highlands NJ: Humanities Press, 1984), 139-48.
- Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Algic Researches, Comprising Inquiries Respecting the Mental Characteristics of the North American Indians (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1839). James Ruppert, "Henry Rowe Schoolcraft: The Indian Expert and American Literature," Platte Valley Review 19, no. 1 (winter 1991): 99-128; Ernest J. Moyne, Hiawatha and Kalevala: A Study of the Relationship between Longfellow's "Indian Edda" and the Finnish Epic, FF Communications, no. 192 (Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1963).
- This essay uses the terms Chippewa, Ojibway, and Anishanabe interchangeably, with general preference for the first. On Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, see Charles R. McCullough, "Jane Schoolcraft Monument," Michigan History 30, no. 2 (April-June 1946) 386-92; Chase Salmon Osborn and Stellanova Osborn, Schoolcraft, Longfellow, Hiawatha (Lancaster PA: Jacques Cattell Press, 1942), 512ff.
- In a letter to his close friend and German translator, Longfellow wrote, "Hiawatha is Iroquois. I chose it instead of Manabazho (Ojibway) for the sake of euphony. It means 'the Wise Seer, or Prophet'—Hiawatha the Wise." HWL to Freiligrath, 11 January 1856, in Andrew Hilen, ed., The Letters of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Cambridge: Belknap, 1972), 3:517. On Longfellow's name borrowings, see also Edward Wagenknecht, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: His Poetry and Prose (New York: Ungar, 1986), 97, 241; Ron Messer, "Nanabozho: History and Mythology," Bulletin of Bibliography 40, no. 4 (1983): 242-51; and James Cleland Hamilton, "The Algonquin Manabozho and Hiawatha," Journal of American Folklore 16 (1903): 229-33.
- Iris Lillian Whitman, Longfellow and Spain (New York: Instituto de las Espanas en los Estados Unidos, 1927), 140.
- Alan Dundes, "Nationalistic Inferiority Complexes and the Fabrication of Fakelore: A Reconsideration of Ossian, the Kinderund Hausmarchen, the Kalevala, and Paul Bunyan," in Papers I—The Eighth Congress for the International Society for Folk Narrative Research, ed. Reimund Kvideland and Torunn Selberg (Bergen, Norway: 1984), 155-71.
- Ferdinand Freiligrath, Der Sang von Hiawatha (Stuttgart, Germany: J. G. Cotta, 1857), 7.
- Henri Augustin Gomot, Hiawatha, Poeme Indo-Americain (Nancy, France: N. Grojean, 1860), 3.
- Klaus Martens, "Versions of the Epic Idyl: A Genre's Intercultural Migrations by Translation," in Proceedings of the Twelfth Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association, ed. Roger Bauer and Douwe Fokkema (Munich: Iudicium Verlag, 1990), 5:353-58.
- See Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Knopf, 1977), 227-33, for a review of hostility to sentimentalism in mid-century periodicals.
- "The Mystic, and the Song of Hiawatha," Saturday Review, 10 November 1855, 34.
- Review of Song of Hiawatha, Boston Daily Evening Traveler, 10 November 1855. Ralph Waldo Emerson added his agreement to the assessment of these reviews in a private letter to Longfellow: "I find this Indian poem very wholesome, sweet and wholesome as maize, very proper and pertinent to us to read, and showing a kind of manly sense of duty in the poet to write. The dangers of the Indians, are that they are really savage, have poor, small sterile heads, no thoughts, and you must deal very roundly with them, and find in them brains, and I blamed your tenderness now and then as I read, for accepting a legend or a song, when they had too little to give." HWL to Moncure Daniel Conway, 30 November 1855, in The Letters of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Andrew Hilen (Cambridge: Belknap, 1972), 3:503-4. This theme of regret over masculine sentimentalism wasted on "savages" manifests itself through many reviews of the poem.
- Emile Montégut, "Poésie Américaine: Une Légende des Prairies" Revue des Deux Mondes 9 (1 June 1857): 689-705.
- I am adopting the view most influentially expressed in Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).
- Lydia Sigourney, "Pocahontas" in Illustrated Poems (New York: Allen Brothers, 1869), 181-209. See also "Oriska," 17-28, and "Indian Names" 237-38, in the same volume, for similar Native American thematics.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha, Everyman edition, ed. Daniel Aaron (1855; reprint, London: J. M. Dent, 1992), 160.
- The bibliographical methodology employed here relied primarily on a year-by-year survey from 1855 forward of the National Union Catalogue to identify Hiawatha translations. In a larger sense I share the methodological and conceptual models of narrative translation economies as elaborated in Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel (London: Verso, 1998), 171-97. Song of Hiawatha was very much an American participant in the "common literary marketplace" (ibid., 187) that developed throughout the European nineteenth century and was the only nineteenth-century American epic poem to do so. Although there have, for instance, been three known Chinese translations of Hiawatha published since the 1980s and a few in other Asian languages, this study does not engage the full globality of twentieth-century Hiawatha translations. The great preponderance of Hiawatha translations emerged from Europe, and this essay focuses on their ideological economy.
- J. Persyn, "The Song of Hiawatha in Het Spoor van Longfellow" in Verzameld Dichtwerk, ed. Guido Gezelle (Antwerp: Uitgeverij de Nederlandsche Boekhandel, 1981), 3:30-31.
- Francis William Newman, Hiawatha: Rendered into Latin (London: Walton and Maberly, 1862). For further on Newman's theories of translation, see Newman, Homeric Translation in Theory and Practice. A Reply to Matthew Arnold, Esq. (London: Williams and Norgate, 1861).
- Newman, Hiawatha, vi-vii.
- M. Richard, Le Chant de Hiawatha, L'Edition d'Art (Paris: H. Piazza, 1927), vii.
- P. E. Pavolini, preface to Poema dei Pellirosse, by Elena Beccarini Crescenzi (Palermo, Italy: Remo Sandron, 1920), xviii.
- Ivan Bunin, Pesn o Gaiavate (Moscow: Izd. M. i S. Sabashnikovukh, 1918), iii. The original publication date is usually given as 1898, but Shalamov demonstrates that this Hiawatha translation was originally published serially from May to September 1896 in Orlovskii vestnik, a newspaper in the provincial city of Orel. B. Shalamov, "Bunin's Work on the Translation of Song of Hiawatha," Voprosy Literatury, no. 1 (1963): 153-58.
- Yosef Klozner, "Autobiographia," Ha'Shiloah 35, no. 2 (August 1918): 97-103. In his contemporary review of Tschernichowsky's translation, Fischl Lahover suggests that the reader-ship responded to Song of Hiawatha as a collective flight of cultural imagination. In the short-lived Warsaw literary journal Netivot, he wrote "Indeed the sound of the seagulls might be heard by our own ears as we read page after page of the book." Lahover, "Song of Hiawatha," Netivot (AhiAssaf, 1913): 325. For discussions of the confluence of Tschernichowsky's Hiawatha translation, optimistic romantic ideology, and the Hebrew Revival, see Lahover, "Tschernichowsky and His Translations," Moznaim 4 (1935): 560-68; Emmanuel Ben-Gurion, "Translating Mountains," Moznaim 15 (1943): 215-17; Y. Lichtenbaum, "Tschernichowsky's Translations" Moznaim 17 (1945) 11: 32-37.
- Yosef Klozner, "Tschernichowsk the Translator," Ha'Aretz, 3 March 1950, 9. Hillel Barzel, Shirat Ha'Tehiya: Shaul Tschernichowsky. Toldot ha'Shira ha'Ivrit m'Hibbat Zion ad Yo-menu, 3. Sidrat Poetica ve'Bikkuret (Tel Aviv: Sifriat Poalim, 1992), 16-26.
- Yaakov Steinberg, "Review," Ha'Poel Ha'Tzair, 25 March 1925, 10.
- Saul Tchernichowsky, Kol Shire Shaul Tchernichowsky (Jerusalem: Schoken, 1937).
- Feliks Tezierski, Duma o Hiawacie (Warsaw: S. Orgelbranda, 1860), 1-2.
- Karl Bindel, Der Sang yon Hiawatha (Halle, Germany: Otto Hendel, 1857), 3. Freiligrath, 6.
- Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation, trans. R. F. Jones and G. H. Turn-bull (1808; reprint, Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1979), 52-90.
- Yehoash [Solomon Blumgarten], Hiavatha. (New York: n.p., 1910). See H. Zhitlowski's "On the Value of Translation" in this same work, iii-xxiv.
- Zhitlowski, xxii.
- Richard, v.
- Ibid., vi.
- Ibid., vii.
- Louis O. Armstrong [Waubungay, pseud.], Hiawatha, or Nanabozho: An Ojibway Indian Play (Montreal: Canadian Pacific Railway, 1901)
- Undated, unsourced newspaper clipping (probably a Boston paper) reporting the adoption of Longfellow's daughter, Alice and Edith, into the Ojibway tribe at a ceremony that they attended and at which Alice gave a speech in Ojibway. Henry Dana Papers, box 36. All Dana Papers citations courtesy U.S. National Park Service, Longfellow National Historic Site, Cambridge MA.
- Program, Dana Papers, box 36, folder 10.
- Letter from John Newton Adams to Henry Dana, 26 April 1938. Dana Papers, box 37, folder 4.
- "Hiawatha Play Algoma's Ober-Ammergau" Sault (Michigan) Daily Star (undated clipping; 1930s?). Dana Papers, box 37, folder 1.
- William E. Brigham, "Hiawatha in Ojibway," Boston Evening Transcript, 19 July 1902, 10. Dana Papers, box 37, folder 1.
Dorian Chong (review date September 2001)
SOURCE: Chong, Dorian. Review of Hiawatha and Megissogwon, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Jeffrey Thompson. School Library Journal 47, no. 9 (September 2001): 250.
How Hiawatha slew serpents and traversed deadly, black-pitch waters to vanquish the evil magician Megissogwon is told in the "Pearl-Feather" section of The Song of Hiawatha. Longfellow's words provide the text for a powerful and engrossing picture-book version of the story [in Hiawatha and Megissogwon ]. Readers who persevere through the no-longer-familiar poem will be rewarded for their efforts by Hiawatha's exciting adventures, ferocious battles, and victorious homecoming. The text has been capably illustrated in a complex process utilizing original drawings, black-and-white scratchboard, and a computer program for color. The result is uniquely suggestive at once of traditional woodblock prints and contemporary computer processes. Colors are deep and vivid. A pattern of multiple frames, irregularly split frames, and double-page spreads effectively heightens the drama of the story. In the back matter, an author's comment provides the details of source material for the patterns and images, including original craftwork of the Ojibway/Chippewa peoples and artifacts on display at the Smithsonian Institution. In an afterword, Joseph Bruchac comments on the authenticity of Hiawatha as a Native American story. He also credits Longfellow's respect for his material and provides background on the poet's original sources. While pointing out the mistakes Longfellow made (including confusing the historic figure of Hiawatha with the Anishinabe trickster Manabozho), Bruchac's balanced comments also pay tribute to this classic poem as the first step in bringing Native American cultures into the national consciousness. This book deserves a place in both the literature and history class-rooms.
Kay Weisman (review date 15 November 2001)
SOURCE: Weisman, Kay. Review of Hiawatha and Megissogwon, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Jeffrey Thompson. Booklist 98, no. 6 (15 November 2001):568.
Using portions of the "Pearl-Feather" section of Longfellow's epic poem The Song of Hiawatha (1853), illustrator Thompson (who also illustrated The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 2000) brings the Anishinabe trickster Megissogwon to life for a new generation of readers. In this segment, the young man Hiawatha, spurred on by his grandmother Nokomis, travels to distant lands where he faces Megissogwon, a powerful magician. Along the way, he confronts serpents, ghosts, and finally the evil sorcerer before returning victorious to his people. Thompson's appealing artwork, created from digitally enhanced scratchboard elements, features prominent earth-tone hues, and the spreads offer authentic details and designs that are respectful of native cultures. Longfellow's vocabulary and trochaic meter will be a challenge for younger readers, but the brevity of the text and the engaging pictures make the book accessible to today's audiences.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 November 2003)
SOURCE: Review of The Song of Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Margaret Early. Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 22 (15 November 2003): 168.
This beautifully designed book, [The Song of Hiawatha, ] although wrought with problems, will attract many wishing to have an accessible version of Long-fellow's classic epic. Virtually nothing in Longfellow's poem relates in any way to the real Hiawatha, but was drawn on the writings of Henry R. School-craft, who had confused the real Hiawatha—a Mohawk known as a great Iroquois reformer and statesman, with a Ojibwe/Chippewa tribal trickster Naanabozho (Manabozho). While explanatory notes on each page make the poem more comprehensible, Early's illustrations contribute to the stereotypes perpetuated in this American literary fantasy. For example, the living structure shown in the illustrations is a teepee (tipi), a common dwelling of several Plains Indian Tribes but not of either of the tribes to which Hiawatha or Naanabozho belonged. Lastly, this is an abridged version with "linking text" to carry the story. The elegance of the book will not re-deem the problems with the poem itself, or with the authenticity of the images.
School Library Journal (review date January 2004)
SOURCE: Review of The Song of Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Margaret Early. School Library Journal 50, no. 1 (January 2004): 151.
This picture-book version of the American epic [The Song of Hiawatha ] is sure to elicit a wide range of reactions. In contrast to Susan Jeffers's Hiawatha (Dial, 1983), a treatment that covers the legendary Native American leader's childhood, Early provides a broader scope. In spreads containing text on the left and an illustration on the right, she begins with Gitche Manito's descent to Earth to call the hostile tribes to peace and to promise a prophet to lead them. Excerpts from the poem describe Hiawatha's maternal line and cosmic paternity, his early life with old Nokomis, his prowess as a hunter, the confrontation with his father (the West-Wind), and his marriage to Minnehaha. Brief bits of prose stand in for the missing stanzas. The paintings are decorative in nature, a quality emphasized by the quiltlike borders on each page. The scenes have a staged, static quality, with carefully placed, furry woodland creatures; stylized figures; and mystical backdrops. While this approach is not out of sync with the poem's predictable cadences, it is not for all tastes. A historical note discusses the choices Longfellow made in designing his composite character, as well as his sources. Most libraries will want to purchase this title in order to offer a fresh and somewhat expanded, illustrated version of the classic to a new generation.
"THE CHILDREN'S HOUR" (1860)
Publishers Weekly (review date 11 October 1993)
SOURCE: Review of The Children's Hour, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Glenna Lang. Publishers Weekly 240, no. 41 (11 October 1993): 87.
One of Longfellow's best known poems [The Children's Hour ], a loving tribute to his three young daughters, is presented here with new artwork. Clean-cut illustrations gleam with light as they capture the poem's playful spirit and highlight a father's tenderness toward mischievous offspring. Longfellow's yellow Cambridge house is carefully recreated as the poem's central image and its reassuring solidity in the first spread sets a homey tone for the book. This same poise, however, sometimes renders the artwork static and the banter and movement of the text is lost. Flesh tones are often questionable—the girls are a trifle pasty-faced and Longfellow looks to be sporting a healthy suntan. Well done, though, is [Glenna] Lang's (When the Frost Is on the Punkin) graceful incorporation of the "Mouse-Tower on the Rhine"; the family changes locale with perfect ease. A useful page of text at the end of the book explains this reference and provides a smattering of information on Longfellow.
Carolyn Phelan (review date 15 November 1993)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of The Children's Hour, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Glenna Lang. Booklist 90, no. 6 (15 November 1993):623.
[Glenna] Lang illustrates Longfellow's poem [The Children's Hour ] with a series of full-page paintings depicting the poet and his children, illustrations inspired by the artist's visit to the Longfellow national historic site. The artwork may be historically accurate and the book is designed with care, but the paintings, though attractive, have a staged air, and the poem itself seems unlikely to appeal to children today. However, if a library wants a picture-book version of the famous poem, this will fit the bill.
"PAUL REVERE'S RIDE" (1861)
Christian Science Monitor (review date 18 April 1963)
SOURCE: Review of Paul Revere's Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Paul Galdone. Christian Science Monitor (18 April 1963): 11.
"Hardly a man is now alive / Who remembers that famous day and year … the eighteenth of April in 'Seventy-five," said Longfellow [in Paul Revere's Ride ], and then went on to make quite sure that 200 years later there would be hardly an American who didn't remember Paul Revere and his dramatic ride. And now to make doubly certain that no child can miss galloping by Revere's side, urgent through the stillness, this new edition of the old poem has big, handsome colored illustrations by Paul Galdone that catch all the drama of the poem and of the occasion, all the subtle changes of light from moonlight to dawning over the New England countryside.
Virginia Haviland (review date June 1963)
SOURCE: Haviland, Virginia. Review of Paul Revere's Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Paul Galdone. Horn Book Magazine 39, no. 3 (June 1963): 291.
This favorite narrative poem [Paul Revere's Ride ] settles appropriately into picture-book format. The dashing verses, printed in strong, clear type, have the right complement in the robust figures and moonlit scenes—in black with blue and brick red—of Boston Harbor and colonial streets and countryside. Authentic in detail, as well as interpretative in spirit, the pictures [by Paul Galdone] considerably enhance the meaning of the verses for the young child.
Publishers Weekly (review date 8 March 1985)
SOURCE: Review of Paul Revere's Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Nancy Winslow Parker. Publishers Weekly 227, no. 10 (8 March 1985): 90.
[Nancy Winslow] Parker's colorful illustrations animate Longfellow's paean to Revere [in Paul Revere's Ride ], rider-messenger and secret agent in the cause of American independence. As a writer, the artist also adds to the reader's information in a foreword, "The Setting," describing tensions between the British and the Patriots before the famous 18th of April. There is also a clear, decorative map preceding the ballad, showing how far Revere did travel: not "to every Middlesex village and farm." He was captured before he reached Concord; one of his cohorts carried on to spread the news of the enemy's advance. The historic gallop, however, is the book's feature and is thrillingly realized in Parker's inspired viewpoint.
Ethel R. Twichell (review date May-June 1985)
SOURCE: Twichell, Ethel R. Review of Paul Revere's Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Nancy Winslow Parker. Horn Book Magazine 61, no. 3 (May-June 1985): 323-24.
Bold, usually two-dimensional drawings [by Nancy Winslow Parker] re-enact for a young audience Revere's celebrated ride [in Paul Revere's Ride ]. Once again the lanterns are lit, the oars are muffled, and the clop of horses' hooves echoes through the moonlit streets. Three or four lines of the stirring verse appear on each neatly-framed and brightly-colored page and are illustrated with lively, often humorous pictures which make all the action clear. The horse and rider are wooden, to be sure, and the villages along the famous route resemble the tiny gold mesh-wrapped farms and towns still found in toy stores; yet the effect is warm, orderly, and detailed enough to warrant returning to again and again. A brief summary introduces the background and progress of the ride and includes the information that Revere was captured before reaching his destination in Concord, a nicety ignored by Longfellow. A simplified map of Revere's route and a glossary of geographic and military words and terms help anticipate and answer possible questions.
Publishers Weekly (review date 27 July 1990)
SOURCE: Review of Paul Revere's Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Ted Rand. Publishers Weekly 237, no. 30 (27 July 1990): 236.
Longfellow's well-known poem [Paul Revere's Ride ] never appeared to better advantage: [Ted] Rand has created a rich rendition of the Revolutionary landscape. And Revere himself is the perfect patriot, rugged and intense as he saddles up, "Ready to ride and spread the alarm / Through every Middlesex village and farm." As Revere sides, the urgency of the pictures inspires the reader to flip the pages at an increasing pace until the dramatic confrontation of the Redcoats and the farmers. If there is any complaint here, it is with Longfellow himself, for rearranging the facts to exclude mention of Revere's fellow riders, Dawes and Prescott. Nevertheless, this is a gem of a lesson about one glorious morning in America's history.
Eleanor K. MacDonald (review date November 1990)
SOURCE: MacDonald, Eleanor K. Review of Paul Revere's Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Ted Rand. School Library Journal 36, no. 11 (November 1990): 130.
Rand is a master of atmosphere and moonlight, and he brings all his skill to the illustration of this narrative poem [Paul Revere's Ride ]. There are a number of nice features for those who choose this for its historic interest. The endpapers include a map, not only of Paul Revere's route but also those taken by fellow patriots, Dawes and Prescott. The buildings of Boston and the various farms and villages on the route are shown in clear and accurate detail, and the interior view of Robert Newman climbing a ladder to the belfry window, surrounded by flying pigeons, gives a vivid picture of the size of the building and the dangers of his contribution to the event. Although Revere has been drawn from portraits and represents an identifiable person, the other figures are more generic; the British soldiers are almost like toy figures in their similarities. For this reason the most successful pages are those showing the hushed landscape in contrast with the various solitary figures and their obvious urgency. The moon highlights everything in pale and tawny gold against the deep blues of water, sky, and tree shadow and follows the rider all the way to Concord where it gives way to a pink dawn sky. The richly colored, romantic watercolors duplicate Longfellow's imagery, often quite literally, and effectively reinforce the narrative quality of the poem. Rand's almost filmic interpretation differs from earlier, more graphic versions illustrated by Paul Galdone (1963), Joseph Low (1973), and Nancy Winslow Parker (1985).
David Hackett Fischer (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: Fischer, David Hackett. "The Union in Crisis: Longfellow's Myth of the Lone Rider." In Paul Revere's Ride, pp. 331-33. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Fischer discusses historical inaccuracies in Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride."]
In the year 1861, Revere's reputation suddenly expanded beyond his native New England. As the nation moved toward Civil War, many northern writers contributed their pens to the Union cause. Among them was New England's poet laureate, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who searched for a way to awaken opinion in the North. On April 5, 1860, Longfellow suddenly found what he was looking for. He and his friend George Sumner went walking in the North End, past Copp's Hill Burying Ground and the Old North Church, while Sumner told him the story of the midnight ride. The next day, April 6, 1860, Longfellow wrote in his diary, "Paul Revere's Ride begun this day." Two weeks later he was still hard at work: "April 19, I wrote a few lines in 'Paul Revere's Ride,' this being the day of his achievement." Perhaps on that anniversary day he found his opening stanza, which so many American pupils would learn by heart:
Listen my children, and you shall hear,
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
Not so well remembered were the lines near the end, that summarized the larger purposes of the poem:
For, borne on the night-wind of the past,
Through all our history to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear,
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
The poem was first published by The Atlantic in January 1861. It had an extraordinary impact. The insistent beat of Longfellow's meter reverberated through the North like a drum roll. It instantly captured the imagination of the reading public. This was a call to arms for a new American generation, in another moment of peril. It was also an argument from Paul Revere's example that one man alone could make a difference, by his service to a great and noble cause.
From an historiographical perspective, Longfellow's poem contained a curious irony. He appealed to the evidence of history as a source of patriotic inspiration, but was utterly without scruple in his manipulation of historical fact. As an historical description of Paul Revere's ride, the poem was grossly, systematically, and deliberately inaccurate. Its many errors were not merely careless mistakes. Longfellow did some research on his subject. He consulted amateur scholars such as Sumner, probably knew Frothingham's Siege of Boston and George Bancroft's History of the United States, which had sold very briskly only a few years before, and appears to have been familiar with Paul Revere's account, which had been in print for sixty years. To enlarge his stock of poetic imagery, Longfellow climbed the steeple of the North Church, scattering the pigeons from their roosts in his search for color and detail. Even the pigeons went into the poem for a touch of verisimilitude.1
Having done all that, Longfellow proceeded to change the history of Paul Revere's ride as radically as his poetic predecessor Eb. Stiles had transformed its geography. His most important revision was not merely in specific details that he so freely altered, but in a new interpretation that had a powerful resonance in American culture.
For his own interpretative purposes, Longfellow invented an image of Paul Revere as a solitary hero who acted alone in history. He allowed his mythical midnight rider only a single henchman, an anonymous Boston "friend" who appeared in the poem as a Yankee Sancho Panza for this New England knighterrant. Otherwise, Longfellow's Paul Revere needed no help from anyone. He rowed himself across the Charles River, waited alone for a signal from the Old North Church, made a solitary ride all the way to Concord, and awakened every Middlesex village and farm along the way.
As a work of history, that interpretation was wildly inaccurate in all its major parts. But as an exercise of poetic imagination it succeeded brilliantly. Longfellow's verse instantly transformed a regional folkhero into a national figure of high prominence. Paul Revere entered the pantheon of patriot heroes as an historical loner of the sort that Americans love to celebrate.
From Captain John Smith to Colonel Charles Lindbergh, many American heroes have been remembered in that way, as solitary actors against the world. This was not entirely an American phenomenon. It was an attitude that belonged to a time as well as a place. Many Romantic writers in the late 19th century—Emerson, Carlyle, Nietzsche—celebrated world-historical leaders as heroic individuals who faced their fate alone. That idea had powerful appeal in a world that was becoming more ordered, and more institution-bound. The genius of Longfellow's poem was to link this powerful theme to a patriotic purpose. It stamped its image of Paul Revere as an historical loner indelibly upon the national memory.
New England antiquarians responded to Longfellow's poem with expressions of high indignation for its gross inaccuracy. Charles Hudson, town historian of Lexington, Massachusetts, wrote angrily in 1868, "We have heard of poetic license, but have always understood that this sort of latitude was to be confined to modes of expression and to the regions of the imagination, and should not extend to historic facts … when poets pervert plain matters of history, to give speed to their Pegasus, they should be restrained, as Revere was in his midnight ride."2
For many years historians in New England labored to correct Longfellow's errors. They demonstrated exhaustively that Paul Revere did not receive the lantern signals from the Old North Church, but helped to send them. They documented abundantly the fact that he did not row alone across the Charles River, but was transported by others. They proved conclusively that Paul Revere did not reach Concord, and that another messenger succeeded where he failed. Other midnight riders were much discussed: notably Dr. Samuel Prescott, and William Dawes, who began to receive more attention than Paul Revere himself.
But the scholars never managed to catch up with Longfellow's galloping hero. Generations of American schoolchildren were required to memorize Long-fellow's poem. Even today many older Americans are still able to recite stanzas they learned in their youth, long after their memory of more recent events has faded. Whatever the failings of the poem as an historical account, it gave new life and symbolic meaning to its subject. It also elevated Paul Revere into figure of high national prominence, and made the midnight ride an important event in American history.
Longfellow's interpretation of Paul Revere was taken up by many popular writers who came after him. Several generations of American artists also borrowed Longfellow's theme of the lone rider. Howard Laskey in 1891 did a drawing called "The Ride," in which Paul Revere and his galloping horse appeared entirely alone, floating in an empty space with nothing in sight but their own shadow.3 Grant Wood in 1931 did a striking painting of "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," (1931), which gave the same interpretation a different twist. The midnight rider appeared as a dark, faceless, solitary figure, galloping alone through an eerie New England townscape that appeared sterile and lifeless in the brilliant moonlight.
Longfellow's interpretation was given a new form in 1914 by Thomas Edison, who made a silent film called The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. Like many autodidacts, Edison was deeply contemptuous of schools and scholars. "I should say," he wrote, "that on the average we only get about two percent efficiency out of school books as they are written today. The education of the future as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture, a visualized education, where it should be possible to obtain a one hundred percent efficiency." To that end, Edison made a film of Paul Revere's ride as a way of teaching American history through the camera. His interpretation closely followed Longfellow's poem in substance and detail—myths, legends, errors, pigeons and all.4
- Longfellow, Journals, April 5, 1860. George Bancroft's accurate account appears in History of the United States from the Discovery of the American Continent, VII (Boston, 1858), 288-96.
- Hudson, Lexington, 171.
- Howard G. Laskey, "The Ride," in Goss, Revere, I, 197. The caption read, "Shouting at every house he reaches, startling the affrighted inmates from their slumbers with his wild halloo, this strange herald of danger thunders on."
- Maury Botton, "Thomas Edison's Midnight Ride of Paul Revere—A Silent Film,"
Dana Gioia (essay date 1998)
SOURCE: Gioia, Dana. "On 'Paul Revere's Ride' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow." http://www.danagioia.net/essays/elongfellow.htm (1998).
[In the following essay, Gioia argues that, although Paul Revere's Ride has become accepted as a canonical work of American folklore, the poem should still be recognized for its skilled and accomplished verse.]
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was the most popular poet in American history. His work commanded a readership that is almost unimaginable today even for best-selling novels. In terms of their reach and influence, Longfellow's poems resembled studio-era Hollywood films: they were popular works of art enjoyed by huge, diverse audiences that crossed all social classes and age groups. Writing in a period before the electronic media usurped the serious literary artist's role as society's story-teller, Longfellow did as much as any author or politician of his time to shape the way nineteenth-century Americans saw themselves, their nation, and their past. At a crucial time in American history—just as the Revolutionary War receded from living memory and the disastrous Civil War inexorably approached—Longfellow created the national myths for which his new and still unstoried country hungered. His poems gave his contemporaries the words, images, myths, and heroes by which they explained America to one another and themselves. There is no better example of Longfellow's genius at creating meaningful and enduring national myth than "Paul Revere's Ride."
The opening lines of "Paul Revere's Ride" are still so famous that even people who have not read the entire poem often know them by heart. They have become, in fact, so familiar that most readers might easily take them for granted and miss the striking and paradoxical rhetorical figures they contain. The poem's narrator, for example, begins by saying, "Listen, my children, and you shall hear." He addresses the tale specifically to children, and yet the work is not in any narrow sense a children's poem. "Paul Revere's Ride" was published in The Atlantic Monthly, hardly a juvenile journal, and was eventually collected in Longfellow's masterful book of interwoven narrative poems,Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), where it is spoken by the Landlord to an audience of adult men. Why then does the poem begin by addressing only one part of its intended audience?
By invoking children in the opening line of his patriotic poem, Longfellow implicitly defines his narrative as a story the older generation considers important enough to pass down to posterity. What will follow, therefore, is not merely an interesting story but a legacy—one of the traditional tales that defines both the audience and the speaker's identity. Perhaps for this reason, Longfellow placed "Paul Revere's Ride" as the first story told in Tales of a Wayside Inn. The characters in the book meet and tell their tales at a tavern in Sudbury, Massachusetts, not far from Boston. Revere's historical exploits would have been a proud part of their shared local lore.
Longfellow's inclusion of the date in the third line serves a similar rhetorical function. (Once again the familiarity of the opening lines makes us forget how odd it is to present a complete date—day, month, and year—in a poem. Longfellow never did so elsewhere in his poetry.) The implicit message of the line is clear: Paul Revere's achievements were of such singular importance that we must learn the date by heart and teach it to posterity. Everyone in Longfellow's original audience would have understood the significance of the date. April 18, 1775 was the day before the American Revolution began. The next morning at Lexington and Concord, the American colonists would fire their "shot heard round the world" and initiate their successful armed resistance against the British Empire. The narrator also explains the necessity of passing this piece of heritage on by reminding the listeners that "hardly a man is now alive / who remembers that famous day and year." The original witnesses are now mostly dead. It has become the audience's responsibility to preserve the memory of Revere's heroic deeds.
Longfellow was an immensely versatile poet who excelled at virtually every form and genre from the epic to the sonnet. No form, however, better displayed his distinctive gifts than the short narrative poem. Nineteenth century readers greatly esteemed the form, which combines the narrative pleasures of fiction with the verbal music of verse. Modern critics, however, have generally downgraded narrative poetry in favor of lyric verse. Longfellow's reputation has been especially hard hit by the change in critical consensus, and once popular poems like "Paul Revere's Ride" have consequently disappeared from academic anthologies. The special qualities of these poems seem antithetical to the lyric traditions of modern poetry, which prize verbal compression, intellectual complexity, elliptical style, and self-referential movement. Longfellow's greatest gifts were best suited to more public poetry—forceful clarity, evocative simplicity, emotional directness, and a genius for memorable (indeed often unforgettable) phrasing.
William Butler Yeats once commented that Longfellow's popularity came because "he tells his story or idea so that one needs nothing but his verses to understand it." That observation particularly applies to "Paul Revere's Ride," which takes a complicated historical incident embedded in the politics of Revolutionary America and retells it with narrative clarity, emotional power, and masterful pacing. From the poem's first publication, historians have complained that Longfellow distorted the actual incident and put far too much emphasis on Revere's individual role. But Longfellow was not interested in scholarly precision; he wanted to create a stirring patriotic myth. In the process he took Paul Revere, a regional folk hero hardly known outside Massachusetts, and turned him into a national icon. To accomplish this feat, Longfellow mythologized both the incident and the man. The new Revere became the symbolic figure who awakens America to fight for freedom. The actual incident, a literal call to arms for the Revolution, required less mythologization. After all, revolutions are already the stuff of myth. Longfellow had only to streamline the historical narrative so that the poem could focus on a central heroic figure. The resulting story—despite the scholarly complaints—is actually not too far from fact. (Longfellow took considerably fewer liberties than Shakespeare did with British history.) The final poem does not merely recount an historical incident; it dramatizes unconquerable Yankee individuality against the old order of European despotism.
Longfellow was a master of narrative pacing. His description of Revere's friend climbing the Old North Church tower displays the poet's ability to make each narrative moment matter. By slowing down the plot at this crucial moment, Longfellow not only builds suspense; he also adds evocative physical details that heightens the moods. (Decades later Hollywood would discover the same procedures.) Reaching the belfry, the friend startles "the pigeons from their perch." Fluttering around they make "masses and moving shapes of shade." The man now pauses to look down at the graves that surrounded an eighteenth century church—an image that perhaps, prefigures the deadly battle to be fought the next day. This lyric moment of reflection provides a false sense of calm before the explosive action that will follow. The man now remembers the task at hand. There is a crucial deed to do.
The scene now shifts suddenly—with a decisive cinematic cut—to the opposite shore where the solitary Revere waits for the signal. (What other nineteenth-century American poet would have handled this transition so boldly?) The historical Revere was one of many riders, but Longfellow understood the powerful appeal of the single heroic individual who fights oppression and makes a decisive impact—another narrative lesson not lost on Hollywood. Longfellow's Revere is not a revolutionary organizer; he is a man of action. As soon as he sees the first lantern, he springs into the saddle, though he is smart enough to wait for the second light before he rides off.
The rest of the poem is pure action—mostly one long tableau of Revere's ride from village to town to village. Once again the effect, to a modern reader, is quintessentially cinematic. Longfellow's galloping triple meters create a thrilling sense of speed, and the rhetorical device of stating the time of night when Revere enters each village adds a cumulative feeling of the rider's urgency. Few poets could sustain a single, linear action for nearly forty lines as Longfellow manages so compellingly in the poem's extended climax. The last two stanzas also demonstrate Long-fellow's narrative authority. As the poet makes the sudden but clear transition from Revere's arrival in the town of Concord to the following day's conflict, Longfellow masterfully summarizes the Battle of Concord in only eight lines. Once again, however, he rhetorically conscripts the listener to collaborate in completing the story. "You know the rest," says the narrator, "In the books you have read." Ingeniously, Longfellow acknowledges the importance of the next day's battle without accepting the artistic necessity to describe it in detail.
The final stanza returns to the image of Revere riding through the night. Now presented outside of the strictly linear chronology that has hitherto characterized the poem, the galloping Revere acquires an overtly symbolic quality. He is no longer the historical figure awakening the Middlesex villages and farms. He has become a timeless emblem of American courage and independence. Significantly, the verb tenses in the final stanza shift from the past (rode) in the opening five lines to the future tense (shall echo, will waken) in the closing lines. The relevance of Longfellow's patriotic symbol would not have been lost on the poet's original audience—the mostly New England Yankee readers of the Boston-based Atlantic Monthly. Although Longfellow ostensibly mythologizes the Revolutionary War, his poem addresses a more immediate crisis—the impending break-up of the Union. Published a few months before the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter initiated America's bloodiest war, "Paul Revere's Ride" was Longfellow's reminder to New Englanders of the courage their ancestors demonstrated in forming the Union. Another "hour of darkness and peril and need," the poem's closing lines implicitly warn, now draws near. The author's intentions were overtly political—to build public resolve to fight slavery and protect the Union—but he embodied his message in a poem compellingly told in purely narrative terms. Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride" was so successful that modern readers no longer remember it as a poem but as a national legend. Underneath the myth, however, a fine poem waits to be rediscovered.
Carolyn Phelan (review date 15 March 2000)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Jeffrey Thompson. Booklist 96, no. 14 (15 March 2000): 1373.
This picture book [The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere ] features the complete text of "Paul Revere's Ride," illustrated by Jeffrey Thompson's large, full-color pictures and a few small, well-crafted images in black and white. Appended is a two-page note setting the historical record straight with a more accurate account of the events that inspired Longfellow's famous narrative poem. Thompson's strong, rhythmic sense of form is used to good advantage in the art. He drew one element of each illustration, transferred it, and cut it into scratchboard; the separate images were then scanned into a computer and composed and colored on line. Sometimes, the complexity of an illustration, combining many elements layered at different depths in the picture plane, detracts from the composition's effectiveness. Overall, however, this large, dramatic picture book is one of the best editions available of this American classic.
Publishers Weekly (review date 3 April 2000)
SOURCE: Review of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Jeffrey Thompson. Publishers Weekly 247, no. 14 (3 April 2000):80.
Fusing scratchboard drawings and computer technology, first-time children's book illustrator Thompson creates a series of ruggedly sleek illustrations for Longfellow's classic poem [The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere ]. From the stirring first line ("Listen, my children, and you shall hear / of the midnight ride of Paul Revere"), the artist takes his cue from Longfellow's expert scene-setting. He orients readers with a frontispiece of Revere rousing villagers as he gallops through cobblestone streets. Thompson then zeroes in on the perspective of Revere and "his friend," the one who will signal to Revere with one lamp or two. This opening illustration introduces all the necessary elements: the pair stands at the foot of the North Church with a schooner clearly visible in the harbor. Later, his approach results in a climactic view of the harbor as the British boats begin to cross the Charles River under a full moon: readers see just the outline of the North Church's steeple and the river stretching before them, as if they are in the position of lighting the two lanterns—the signal of an invasion by sea. Echoing the poem's grave tension, Thompson opts for the dark, gothic look of a Tim Burton movie set. Whether outlining the gnarls and whorls of tree bark or the crisscross shadow thrown by a leaded window on a sleeping villager's quilt, he conveys a visual freshness and clarity that breathes new life into this standard of American lore. Ages 4-8.
Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan (review date May 2000)
SOURCE: Menaldi-Scanlan, Nancy. Review of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Jeffrey Thompson. School Library Journal 46, no. 5 (May 2000): 185.
Paul Revere rides again in this oversized version of Longfellow's narrative poem [The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere ], reproduced here in its entirety, with the stanzas generally laid out as they are in the original version. [Jeffrey] Thompson's excellent scratch-board and computer-colorized illustrations follow the pattern of this layout, with each full-page drawing accompanying one or two stanzas of the narrative. The artwork has a formal, more stylized look to it than Paul Galdone's drawings in Paul Revere's Ride (1963) or Ted Rand's realistic, action-packed paintings in Paul Revere's Ride (1990), and their wood-cutlike appearance seems to fit the mood of this monumental tale. Using mostly subdued tones of blue, black, and brown with occasional touches of color (such as the red in the grenadiers' coats), the artist has provided a suitable backdrop for the somber message that the horseman had to deliver. As is true of the aforementioned versions, Revere figures prominently in the illustrations; however, Thompson also alters the perspective in several scenes. In doing so, readers come to understand that this poem is not just about one man's heroic deed, but is also about the nameless people who gave up their lives for the cause of liberty, such as the villager asleep in his bed "Who at the bridge would be first to fall." The map and historical note at the end of the book indicate the inaccuracies of Longfellow's poem, illustrating how writers sometimes employ poetic license. Most libraries will want to own this accomplished rendering.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 November 2001)
SOURCE: Review of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Christopher Bing. Kirkus Reviews 69, no. 21 (1 November 2001):1552.
An extraordinarily beautiful piece of bookmaking attempts to breathe new life into one of American literature's hoariest classics [The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere ]. Illustrator [Christopher] Bing, fresh from his Caldecott Honor triumph with Casey at the Bat (2000), here employs a combination of techniques to depict the events of the "eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five." Delicate pen, ink, and brush backgrounds reminiscent of early engravings were glazed with watercolors "in the traditional method," resulting in an absolutely heart-stopping blue that dominates the nighttime scenes with just tiny hints of reds and yellows to stand in contrast. Occasional scanned-in additions, such as watches, coins, or playing cards, are superimposed on some illustrations; these are presumably added to enhance atmosphere but are somewhat distracting. The illustrations occupy most of the double-page spreads, with the text appearing at the sides in boxes that simulate yellowed (and in one case, singed) paper. Extensive historical notes, bibliography, acknowledgments, and a fascinating note on the preparation follow the poem; the whole is flanked by maps of the planned British raid and the famous ride. The endpapers are decorated with facsimile broadsides and supplemented by two foldout documents: a recreation of Paul Revere's deposition on the events, and a "fanciful" recreation of British General Gage's orders to his lieutenant. It is unquestionably a glorious effort on the part of the artist, designer, and publisher. The poem itself can be stuffily old-fashioned in syntax and occasionally its rhyme scheme mires down, but the illustrations, which capture both the movements of the British and the desperate stealth of Revere and his friend, help to carry the reader along. Less a picture book than an illustrated poem, this offering may well serve to excite new audiences in a work to which everyone knows the opening lines—but nothing else.
Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan (review date December 2001)
SOURCE: Menaldi-Scanlan, Nancy. Review of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Christopher Bing. School Library Journal 47, no. 12 (December 2001): 165.
Longfellow's most famous tale [The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere ] comes to life once again in [Christopher] Bing's masterfully detailed scratchboard paintings that, through their watercolor glazes, give the appearance of fine old engravings. The digitally produced, superimposed images of playing cards, Colonial money, and various other historical objects enhance the tactile sense of the meticulous renderings. Each half-page piece of text appears on a facsimile of parchment set in Founder's Caslon 30 font, the same typeface used in the first printing of the Declaration of Independence, and the accompanying illustrations, maps, and re-creations of documents clearly reinforce the poet's words. The scratchboards are rich in texture and their many shadows suggest the moods of conspiracy and secrecy that must have permeated those days prior to the battles of Lexington and Concord. One that is particularly poignant is that of Revere hurrying along on horseback while the shadows behind him create a blend of images of both the first and current Stars and Stripes. The illustrations of this beautifully bound rendition are more realistic than those by Jeffrey Thompson (2000) and are geared to an older audience than those of Paul Galdone's classic version,Paul Revere's Ride (1963). Both school and public libraries should add Bing's interpretation to their shelves—this is one patriotic poem that deserves to ride again.
Carolyn Phelan (review date 15 December 2001)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Christopher Bing. Booklist 98, no. 8 (15 December 2001): 727.
Bing, whose illustrated edition of Thayer's Casey at the Bat was a 2001 Caldecott Honor Book, turns another famous American poem [The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere ] into an equally handsome volume. Two double-page spreads are devoted to maps: one of the British "Secret Expedition to Concord"; the second showing the routes of Paul Revere and the other riders. Each section of the poem appears on what looks like the yellowed pages of an old book; a long, horizontal panel in each spread carries the main illustration. The scratchboard line work, reminiscent of engravings, is tinted with watercolors. Deep blues predominate in the well-drawn and beautifully lit night scenes, which reflect the atmosphere as well as the sense of the verse. The digital enhancement of the spreads, featuring small, scanned pictures and artifacts, adds three-dimensional elements such as coins, feathers, and playing cards to some of the scenes, but Bing uses this device with restraint. Amid the facsimile documents, folded and affixed to the endpapers, are maps, notes on Revere's ride, the illustrator's lengthy acknowledgements, the dedication, and the welcome notes on the artwork. The poem and illustrations at the heart of it all seem a little encumbered, but children will choose the parts that intrigue them, and so will their parents and teachers. A remarkable visual interpretation of Longfellow's classic poem.
Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan (review date March-April 2002)
SOURCE: Menaldi-Scanlan, Nancy. Review of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Christopher Bing. Horn Book Magazine 78, no. 2 (March-April 2002): 224-25.
Bing illustrates Longfellow's poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere as a military operation, performed in stealth and carried out as one vital piece of a complex tactical maneuver. A foldout facsimile of a letter from General Thomas Gage, placed on the opening faux-marbled end pages, sets the stage: British regulars are to confiscate military supplies from the Continental forces at Concord. Rebels must foil this plan. The initial scratchboard and watercolor illustrations, suggesting engravings of the period, show the revolutionaries sneaking around taverns gathering information, climbing to the tower of the Old North Church, or slipping across the Charles River. Maps foreshadow and conclude the poem. The first shows the planned expedition to Concord; the second covers the actual route followed by several men. Closing endpapers also contain a foldout document, this one a reproduction of Revere's own account of "the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five." As in Casey at the Bat (rev. 3/01), Bing uses the physical book to evoke a historical period as well as to record it, but here detail rides roughshod over coherence. The poem, penned in the nineteenth century, is painstakingly recreated in an eighteenth-century folio. Historical souvenirs sprinkled across the pages, such as playing cards, musket shot, and military memorabilia, show little relation to the poem, giving readers the literary equivalent of visiting the gift shop in Colonial Williamsburg in order to appreciate history. Appended explanatory notes provide historical background, sometimes contradicting Longfellow's words, sometimes complementing them. Includes a bibliography and details concerning the artwork and production.
Meg Chorlian (essay date October 2002)
SOURCE: Chorlian, Meg. "Editor's Note." Cobblestone 23, no. 7 (October 2002): 2.
[In the following essay, Chorlian comments on certain factual errors in "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."]
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" is a popular one for school-children studying the American Revolution to read and memorize. It tells the story of Revere's race through the Massachusetts night to get word to the patriots in Concord that the British troops were on the move out of Boston.
Actually, the poem contains several historical errors. Paul Revere did not work alone, as the poem states. Rather, he was one of several midnight riders who galloped through the Massachusetts countryside spreading the news. Also, Revere did not wait to get the predetermined signal in the Old North Church steeple. Instead, he sent the signal with the help of two other men. And Revere was captured before he reached Concord. Dr. Samuel Prescott was the man who ultimately carried the important message to the town.
We mention all this because the stories behind the battles of Lexington and Concord—the first two of the Revolutionary War—are fascinating when looked at carefully. But popular history, such as Longfellow's poem, sometimes perpetuates misinformation. For example, while the militias and minutemen who fought against the British troops were not soldiers, they also were not the unseasoned, unorganized bands of men that some history books have indicated.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 February 2003)
SOURCE: Review of Paul Revere's Ride: The Landlord's Tale, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Charles Santore. Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 4 (15 February 2003): 311.
Longfellow's familiar verse [in Paul Revere's Ride: The Landlord's Tale ] comes to splendid life in dynamic paintings. Santore (Stowaway on Noah's Ark, not reviewed, etc.) chooses to tell his tale as a story-within-a-story, as Longfellow did. He begins by placing Longfellow's narrator, the landlord of the Wayside Inn. in his Windsor chair by the fireplace. All of his illustrations are full-bleed double-paged spreads, with the text in boxes. Darkling colors by firelight, candlelight, and moonlight display images of great movement and action: readers look into the belfry of the Old North Church from below the bells, they can almost hear the sound of Revere's horse's hooves on the cobblestones or the wooden bridge. Dramatic perspectives—above, below, beneath—create images of great force, matching the propulsive sound of the poetry. All of the figures seem to be in motion: soldiers, townspeople, and Revere himself, square-jawed and determined. "It was twelve by the village clock. / When he crossed the bridge into Medford town. / He heard the crowing of the cock. / And the barking of the farmer's dog …" Looking down on this scene from above that clock: the barking dog, men barefoot, but bearing muskets, the swirl of Revere's cloak and the jittery shadows make a powerful picture. In all, a very different experience from the quieter drama of Monica Vachula's Ride
Nancy Mendali-Scanlan (review date March 2003)
SOURCE: Mendali-Scanlan, Nancy. Review of Paul Revere's Ride: The Landlord's Tale, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Charles Santore. School Library Journal 49, no. 3 (March 2003): 220.
Set in the Sudbury, MA, hostel of the author's Tales of the Wayside Inn fame, the poem [Paul Revere's Ride: The Landlord's Tale ] is told as Longfellow wrote it—as a story being related to a group of 19th-century gentlemen gathered around a parlor fire 100 years after Revere's historic ride. Immediately, of course, the tale goes back in time to show details of the fateful night, and it does so beautifully. [Charles] Santore's acrylic spreads, done primarily in somber blue, green, and brown tones, suggest the cover of night of the attempted secret attack, as well as the seriousness of the event itself. Each illustration conveys a tremendous sense of forward movement, not only from Revere's horse as he presses ever onward, but also from the body movements of the colonists as they rouse themselves for battle. The final painting showing Revere racing through clouds above a peaceful village with a large clock looming behind him gives the sense that this tale will continue to he told "through all our history, to the last." Less stylized than Jeffrey Thompson's version,The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (2000), and giving a more retrospective feel than that of Christopher Bing's you-are-there approach (2001), this edition should not replace either of those fine works. Rather, it should serve as a point of comparison, as a means of introducing young listeners to the many possibilities an artist faces when interpreting a classic piece of literature.
Nancy Mendali-Scanlan (review date May 2003)
SOURCE: Mendali-Scanlan, Nancy. Review of Paul Revere's Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Monica Vachula. School Library Journal 49, no. 5 (May 2003): 138.
Another version of Longfellow's classic poem [Paul Revere's Ride ] is brought to light. [Monica] Vachula has chosen a burlap-like background for her historically accurate oil paintings, giving not only an antique but also a homey feel to her work. Each spread features 5 to 16 lines from the poem and a small picture opposite a full painting. For instance, the "spark / Struck out by a steed" is accompanied by a close-up of a powder horn, while another page that tells of the patriot who would be "Pierced by a British musket-ball" shows the fallen soldier being attended by a clergyman. Each thumbnail sketch draws attention to specific ideas that might otherwise be lost in the larger illustration. Although Longfellow's poem is not known for its total historical accuracy, Vachula's paintings are so carefully rendered that anyone familiar with the area will recognize Paul Revere's house, the Old North Church, and the bridge at Lexington and Concord. Done primarily in somber blues, greens, and gray tones, the artwork conveys the seriousness of the political situation and makes the touches of red from the grenadiers' uniforms all the more startling. Much more traditional than Jeffrey Thompson's highly stylized art in The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (2000) and even more realistic than the engravings and paintings by Christopher Bing (2001), this edition will be welcomed by purists who prefer an almost photographic look at Revere's historic ride.
William Dean Howells (essay date November 1873)
SOURCE: Howells, William Dean. "Recent Literature: Aftermath." Atlantic Monthly 32, no. 5 (November 1873): 622-24.
[In the following essay, Howells critiques a selection of the poetry reproduced in Aftermath, the third volume of Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn series.]
Every poet creates a type of himself, by which all that he does afterwards is felt as his, and variance from which is not easily forgiven. He becomes his own rival, as has often been said: yet even in his self-rivalry it is not his likeness but his unlikeness to himself that displeases; and whilst we protest against any criticism that presumes to limit a poet to any vein, or to dictate how and what he shall write, as vulgar and impudent, we confess a sympathy with the popular expectation that each poet shall be in a manner what he has been, as nearly as he can. In the love we bear a man's poetry there is something analogous to the repetition-asking principle in music; some recurrence of accustomed mental attitudes we all desire. It was the absence of these in Mr. Longfellow's "New England Tragedies" and "Divine Tragedy" which disappointed a generation unable to read as impartially as the future, and unwilling to accept their severe outlines in place of the pictures and opulent reliefs they were used to being pleased with in him. The next generation will do what we hardly can: read the Christus with a due sense of it as a whole. For us, with whom "The Golden Legend" was long ago accepted as a complete poem, and "The Divine Tragedy" came afterwards without warrant of their relationship till the last, they must always remain disunited in our thought, whatever they are in fact. The two latter parts, indeed, are the fruit of artistic moods quite different from that which produced the first. Something of the self-denying strictness with which the Dante was translated seems to have forbidden them the richness and the quaint detail of the earlier drama. But in the three books of Mr. Long-fellow's Tales of the Wayside Inn, the last of which is now closed in the volume called Aftermath, the dominant mood is always the same, so that the three series are as intimately related in manner as are the different Idyls of the King.
Moreover, in Aftermath, the poet appears willing to recall to the lovers of his poetry all their favorites among his works. It is a pensive, delicious refrain, the melodious reverberation, in delicately subdued effects, of the old colors, tones, feelings; and the art is mellowed to that last flavor of perfection which in Tennyson's Gareth and Lynette is almost enough of itself to constitute a poem. Those who have loved a poet long and constantly feel the charm of this with a keenness unknown to the fickle and impatient; but there is certainly in the ripe performance of every great master of style a delight which no intelligent reader can miss. By exercise and study of his art all its highest effects come easily to him; he has but to wave his hand, as it appears, and they are there; sometimes it even appears as if they came unbidden. Besides, in Aftermath, we have somehow a better sense than before of our poet's genius. The perfect serenity of his mental atmosphere widens those clear horizons along which lurks a melancholy light, and lets us perceive how great his range has been and in what an ample spirit he has touched his many themes. These poems, as effortless, as uncompelled, as the color and sweet of Nature, affect us as if they came from a store as rich as hers, and suggest her largeness as well as her fertility.
We suppose this sense of their spontaneity is heightened by their freedom from the didactic tendency which characterized some of Mr. Longfellow's shorter poems, at an earlier period. The tales are simply stories, teaching by incident and character, and often not teaching at all; and in the poems that follow them, brief and few in number, are almost pure expressions of feeling; or are expressions of feeling tacitly directed towards a lesson, not bearing it as a burden. And on the whole we believe we are ready to set some of these poems before any in the language of a similar kind,—of quite the same kind there are none. Take, for example, this called
From the outskirts of the town,
Where of old the mile-stone stoof,
Now a stranger, looking down
I behold the shadowy crown
Of the dark and haunted wood.
Is it changed, or am I changed?
Ah! the oaks are fresh and green,
But the friends with whom I ranged
Through their thickets are estranged
By the years that intervene.
Bright as ever flows the sea,
Bright as ever shines the sun,
But alas! they seem to me
Not the sun that used to be,
Not the tides that used to run.
This is full of the feeling to be conveyed; but it is not surcharged by the slightest touch, it is exquisitely balanced; and this which follows is such a pleasure in its artistic loveliness and completeness as a whole literature can but twice or thrice afford:—
When the Summer fields are mown,
When the birds are fledged and flown,
And the dry leaves strew the path;
With the falling of the snow,
With the cawing of the crow,
Once again the fields we mow
And gather in this aftermath.
Not the sweet, new grass with flowers
Is this harvesting of ours;
Not the upland clover bloom;
But the rowen mixed with weeds,
Where the poppy drops its seeds
Tangled tufts from marsh and meads
In the silence and the gloom.
"Fata Morgana" is almost as good as these two poems, but is perhaps not so marvelously poised, not so wholly freed from all process of art; and then we have "The Haunted Chamber," "The Meeting," and "The Challenge," that suggest in mood and movement the best of Mr. Longfellows's earlier short poems, and are worth a place in our memories with "The Beleaguered City," "The Footsteps of Angels," and other kindred pieces, which they equal in richness and tenderness of sentiment and surpass in the evidence of poetic mastery.
Of the Tales of a Wayside Inn, our readers already know Scanderbeg, and have, we hope,
"liked the canter or the rhymes
That had a hoof-beat in their sound,"
and the midnight solemnity of the atmosphere thrown about the wild, fierce tragedy; and they have also enjoyed the peculiarly Longfellowish humor of "The Rhyme of Sir Christopher." All the other tales, and of course the interludes and preludes, are here printed for the first time. It is the Spanish Jew who tells the story of Scanderbeg, and he tells also the first story in the series, that of Azrael and Solomon, and the Rajah who flies from the death-angel only to meet him at his own door. The Poet's tale of Charlemagne; it is a scene, a spectacle, rather than a story, and affects the reader as a painting of the same subject might; it is dramatic in the last degree and the critical reader will notice with what consummate skill, with what fullness and yet with what wise reticence he is possessed of the situation. The Student's tale is that old and pretty story of the king's daughter who carried her lover from her bower lest his footsteps in the snow should betray them both; and we need not say how sweetly it is told, and how it turns as innocent in the poet's verse as the Theologians's tale of the fair Quakeress Elizabeth Haddon, who as she rode through the woods to meeting, with her guest John Estaugh, lingered behind the others a little, and whispered:
"'Tarry awhile behind, for I have something to tell thee,
Not to be spoken lightly, nor in the presence of others;
Them it concerneth not, only thee and me it concerneth.
And they rode slowly along through the woods conversing together.
It was a pleasure to breathe the fragrant air of the forest;
It was a pleasure to live on that bright and happy May morning!
"Then Elizabeth said, though still with a certain reluctance,
As if impelled to reveal a secret she fain would have guarded:
'I will no longer conceal what is laid upon me to tell thee;
I have received from the Lord a charge to love thee, John Estaugh.'
"And John Estaugh made answer, surprised by the words she had spoken,
'Pleasant to me are thy converse, thy ways, thy meekness of spirit;
Pleasant thy frankness of speech, and thy soul's immaculate whiteness,
Love without dissimulation, a holy and inward adorning.
But I have yet no light to lead me, no voice to direct me.
When the Lord's work is done, and the toil and the labor completed
He hath appointed to me, I will gather into the stillness
Of my own heart awhile, and listen and wait for his
"Then Elizabeth said, not troubled not wounded in spirit,
'So is it best, John Estaugh. We will not speak of it further.
It hath been laid upon me to tell thee this, for tomorrow
Thou are going away, across the sea, and I know not
When I shall see thee more; but if the Lord hath decreed it,
Thou wilt return again to seek me here and to find me.'
And they rode onward in silence, and entered the town with the others."
This purely Quaker love-story, in which of course John Estaugh finally "has freedom" to accept the love of Elizabeth, is perhaps the best in the book. The quaint and homely material is wrought into a texture marvelously delicate; and its colorless fineness clothes a beauty as chaste and soft as the neutral-tinted garments of the fair, meekly bold Quaker maiden. The English hexameter which Mr. Longfellow has so intimately associated with his name, he has never more successfully handled, we think, than in this poem, which recalls Evangeline and The Courtship of Miles Standish at their best, and yet has a humor and sweetness quite its own, and unmistakably knowable for Longfellow's. But the humor is his quietest, naturally. That gayety, that esprit which among modern poets is almost peculiar to him, finds its broadest expression in the Sicilian's tale of the Monk of Casal-Maggiore, who pretended that he had been changed into an ass for the sin of gluttony. It is as the poet says of it,
"A tale that cannot boast forsooth,
A single rag or shred of truth;
That does not leave the mind in doubt
As to the with it or without;
A naked falsehood and absurd
As mortal ever told or heard."
And it is as merry as a tale of Chaucer's and told with a relish for all its comic points and extravagances which the reader cannot refuse to share. All the character-painting is in the mellowest tones,—the wily, worthless, jovial monk, the simple peasant, the hospitable housewife, the old grandsire with his memories of the French and Milanese wars. How good is this picture of the rogue of a friar, supping at the peasant's board:
"It was a pleasure but to see him eat,
His white teeth flashing through his russet beard,
His face aglow and flushed with wine and meat,
His roguish eyes that rolled and laughed and leered!
Lord! how he drank the blood-red country wine
As if the village vintage were divine!
"And all the while he talked without surcease,
And told his merry tales with jovial glee
That never flagged, but rather did increase,
And laughed aloud as if insance were he,
And wagged his red beard, matted like a fleece."
When Brother Timothy returns to his convent, the prior sends to market the ass which the guilty monk had persuaded Farmer Gilbert to believe his penitential shape.
"Gilbert was at the Fair; and heard a bray,***
And nearer came, and saw that it was he
And whispered in his ear, 'Ah, lackaday!
Good father, the rebellious flesh, I see,
Have changed you back into an ass again,
And all my admonitions were in vain.'
"The ass, who felt this breathing in his ear,
Did not turn round to look, but shook his head,
As if he were not pleased these words to hear,
And contradicted all that had been said.
And this made Gilbert cry in voice more clear,
'I know you well; your hair is russet-red;
Do not deny it; for you are the same
Franciscan friar, and Timothy by name.'
"The ass, though now the secret had come out,
Was obstinate, and shook his head again;
Until a crowd was gathered round about
To hear this dialogue between the twain;
"'If this be Brother Timothy,' they cried,
'Buy him, and feed him on the tenderest grass;
Thou canst not do too much for one so tried
As to be twice transformed into an ass.'
So simple Gilbert brough him, and untied
His halter, and o'er mountain and morass
He led him homeward, talking as he went
Of good behavior and a mind content."
The children saw them coming, and advanced,
Shouting with joy, and hung about his neck,
Not Gilbert's, but the ass's,—round him danced,
And wove green garlands wherewithal to deck
His sacred person; for again it chanced
Their childish feelings, without rein or check,
Could not discriminate in any way
A donkey from a friar of Orders Gray.
"'O brother Timothy,'the children said,
"You have come back to us just as before;
We were afraid and thought that you were dead,
And we should never see you any more."
And then they kissed the white star on his head,
That like a birth-mark or a badge he wore,
And patted him upon the neck and face,
And said a thousand things with childish grace."
This, which is so charmingly said, has all the elder storyteller's amiable pleasure in the truth of such simple details as the children's fond and credulous rapture, and the donkey's gravity of behavior. The ass, in fact,
Lazily winking his large, limpid eyes,
or, as he stands
Twirling his ears about,
is studied with the same humorous observance and appreciation of brute-character as Chaucer brings to the portrayal of Chanticleer and Dame Partlet,—a whimsical playfulness akin to that with which our poet indicates the kind of animal with whom Sir Christopher Gardiner found refuge from the justice of Massachusetts Bay:
—"the noble savage who took delight
In his feathered hat and his velvet vest,
His gun and his rapier, and the rest,
But as soon as the noble savage heard
That a bounty was offered for this gay bird,
He wanted to slay him out of hand,
And bring in his beautiful scalp for a show,
Like the glossy head of a kite or a crow."
The Musician's tale is a version of the affecting Norse ballad of The Mother's Ghost; but we care less for it than for the others. The whole book, however, seems to us the best that we could ask of the poet whom it suggests, if it does not reveals, in his whole range; and who has given more pleasure of a high and refined sort to more people than any other poet of our time.
POETRY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE (1999)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 December 1998)
SOURCE: Review of Poetry for Young People, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Charles Wallace. Kirkus Reviews 66, no. 24 (15 December 1998): 1800.
Presented in picture book format [by illustrator Charles Wallace], this unfocused collection of poems and extracts [Poetry for Young People ] from this 19th-century poet gathers up a few chestnuts, but also (unintentionally and unjustly) suggests ample reason to avoid the rest of his oeuvre. Preceded by a dense introduction, the more accessible selections—"The Arrow and the Song," the ever-charming "Children's Hour," and the wonderfully lurid "Wreck of the Hesperus" —are scattered gems among such deadening material as "Woods in Winter" ("with solemn feet I tread the hill, / That over-brows the lonely vale"), "A Psalm of Life," and "Hymn to the Night" ("Peace! Peace! Orestes-like I breathe this prayer!"). In addition,Evangeline is represented by a mere six lines, and even "Paul Revere's Ride" is incomplete. Painting in a realistic style, [Chad] Wallace shows more facility depicting landscapes than people. Even though Longfellow's famous poems are readily available elsewhere, few readers—after plowing through this uninspired hand-ful—will feel an urge to read more.
Ilene Cooper (review date 15 March 1999)
SOURCE: Cooper, Ilene. Review of Poetry for Young People, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Charles Wallace. Booklist 95, no. 14 (15 March 1999):1343.
Longfellow is, perhaps, not as much in fashion as he once was, but many of his poems remain classics and are read in schools. This collection [Poetry for Young People ] offers 27 of his works, among them, "The Village Blacksmith," "The Wreck of the Hesperus," "The Children's Hour," "Paul Revere's Ride," and "Hiawatha's Childhood" from "The Song of Hiawatha." A several-page introduction to Longfellow's life also includes some of the stories behind the poems. Each poem gets a page or more and is fully illustrated by a painting [by Charles Wallace]. The pictures range from spirited to workmanlike, and the one for "The Rainy Day," which features an old, depressed-looking man, is downright dreary. Libraries looking for a collection of Longfellow's works will find this serviceable.
Kennedy, W. Sloane. Henry W. Longfellow: Biography, Anecdote, Letters, Criticism. New York, N.Y.: Haskell House, 1973, 368 p.
Includes a biography of Longfellow along with anecdotes, letters, general criticism, bibliographies, and early poems.
Kretzoi, Charlotte. "Puzzled Americans: Attempts at an American National Epic Poem." In The Origins and Originality of American Culture, edited by Tibor Frank, pp. 139-48. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1984.
Examines early American epic poetry, including Long-fellow's The Song of Hiawatha.
Messer, Ron. "Nanabozho: History and Mythology." Bulletin of Bibliography 40, no. 4 (December 1983): 242-51.
Explores the mythology of Nanabozho which Longfellow drew upon for Hiawatha, including extensive notes.
Osborn, Chase S., and Stellanova Osborn. "Hiawatha" with Its Original Indian Legends. Lancaster, Pa.: Jacques Cattell Press, 1944, 255 p.
Reprints The Song of Hiawatha and includes discussion of the people, times, and genealogy of Hiawatha.
Rees, John O. "Eliot's 'Cousin Nancy' and The Song of Hiawatha." Etudes Anglaises 34, no. 4 (October 1981): 454-57.
Analyses how T. S. Eliot employs some of the poetic style of Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha to comic effect.
Additional coverage of Longfellow's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: American Writers; American Writers Retrospective Supplement, Vol. 2;Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1640-1865; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 1, 59, 235; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Poetry; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Exploring Poetry; Literature Resource Center; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 2, 45, 101, 103;Poetry Criticism, Vol. 30;Poetry for Students, Vols. 2, 7, 17;Poets: American and British; Reference Guide to American Literature, Ed. 4;Something about the Author, Vol. 19;Twayne's United States Authors; World Literature Criticism Supplement; and World Poets.
"Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth 1807-1882." Children's Literature Review. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/academic-and-educational-journals/longfellow-henry-wadsworth-1807-1882
"Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth 1807-1882." Children's Literature Review. . Retrieved September 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/academic-and-educational-journals/longfellow-henry-wadsworth-1807-1882
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