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Biography of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)

Probably one of the best loved American poets the world over is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Many of his lines are as familiar to us as rhymes from Mother Goose or the words of nursery songs learned in early childhood. Like these rhymes and melodies, they remain in the memory and accompany us through life.

There are two reasons for the popularity and significance of Longfellow's poetry. First, he had the gift of easy rhyme. He wrote poetry as a bird sings, with natural grace and melody. Read or heard once or twice, his rhyme and meters cling to the mind long after the sense may be forgotten.

Second, Longfellow wrote on obvious themes which appeal to all kinds of people. His poems are easily understood; they sing their way into the consciousness of those who read them. Above all, there is a joyousness in them, a spirit of optimism and faith in the goodness of life which evokes immediate response in the emotions of his readers.

Americans owe a great debt to Longfellow because he was among the first of American writers to use native themes. He wrote about the American scene andlandscape, the American Indian ('Song of Hiawatha'), and American history and tradition ('The Courtship of Miles Standish', 'Evangeline'). At the beginning of the 19th century, America was a stumbling babe as far as a culture of its own was concerned. The people of America had spent their years and their energies in carving a habitation out of the wilderness and in fighting for independence. Literature, art, and music came mainly from Europe and especially from England. Nothing was considered worthy of attention unless it came from Europe.

But "the flowering of New England," as Van Wyck Brooks terms the period from 1815 to 1865, took place in Longfellow's day, and he made a great contribution to it. He lived when giants walked the New England earth, giants of intellect and feeling who established the New Land as a source of greatness. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and William Prescott were a few of the great minds and spirits among whom Longfellow took his place as a singer and as a representative of America.

The first Longfellow came to America in 1676 from Yorkshire, England. Among the ancestors of the poet on his mother's side were John and Priscilla Alden, of whom he wrote in 'The Courtship of Miles Standish'. His mother's father, Peleg Wadsworth, had been a general in the Revolutionary War. His own father was a lawyer. The Longfellow home represented the graceful living which was beginning to characterize the age.

Henry was the son of Stephen Longfellow and Zilpah Wadsworth Longfellow. He was born February 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine. Portland was a seaport, and this gave its citizens a breadth of view lacking in the more insular New England towns. The variety of people and the activity of the harbors stirred the mind of the boy and gave him a curiosity about life beyond his own immediate experience. He was sent to school when he was only three years old. When he was six, the following report of him was received at home: "Master Henry Longfellow is one of the best boys we have in school. He spells and reads very well. He can also add and multiply numbers. His conduct last quarter was very correct and amiable."

From the beginning, it was evident that this boy was to be drawn to writing and the sound of words. His mother read aloud to him and his brothers and sisters the high romance of Ossian, the legendary Gaelic hero. Cervantes' 'Don Quixote' was a favorite among the books he read. But the book which influenced him most was Washington Irving's 'Sketch Book'. Irving was another American author for whom the native legend and landscape were sources of inspiration.

"Every reader has his first book," wrote Longfellow later. "I mean to say, one book among all others which in early youth first fascinates his imagination, and at once excites and satisfies the desires of his mind. To me, the first book was the 'Sketch Book' of Washington Irving."

Longfellow's father was eager to have his son become a lawyer. But when Henry was a senior at Bowdoin College at 19, the college established a chair of modern languages. The recent graduate was asked to become the first professor, with the understanding that he should be given a period of time in which to trave land study in Europe.

In May of 1826, the fair-haired youth with the azure blue eyes set out for Europe to turn himself into a scholar and a linguist. He had letters of introduction to men of note in England and France, but he had his own idea of how to travel. Between conferences with important people and courses in the universities, Longfellow walked through the countries. He stopped at small inns and cottages, talking to peasants, farmers, traders, his silver flute in his pocket as a passport to friendship. He travelled in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and England, and returned to America in 1829. At 22, he was launched into his career as a college professor. He had to prepare his own texts, because at that time none were available.

Much tribute is due him as a teacher. Just as he served America in making the world conscious of its legend and tradition, so he opened to his students and to the American people the literary heritage of Europe. He created in them the new consciousness of the literature of Spain, France, Italy, and especially writings from the German, Nordic, and Icelandic cultures.

In 1831, he married Mary Storer Potter, whom he had known as a schoolmate. When he saw her at church upon his return to Portland, he was so struck by her beauty that he followed her home without courage enough to speak to her. With his wife, he settled down in a house surrounded by elm trees. He expended his energies on translations from Old World literature and contributed travel sketches to the New England Magazine, in addition to serving as a professorand a librarian at Bowdoin.

In 1834, he was appointed to a professorship at Harvard and once more set out for Europe by way of preparation. This time his young wife accompanied him. The journey ended in tragedy. In Rotterdam, his wife died, and Longfellow came alone to Cambridge and the new professorship. The lonely Longfellow took a room at historic Craigie House, an old house overlooking the Charles River. It was owned by Mrs. Craigie, an eccentric woman who kept much to herself and was somewhat scornful of the young men to whom she let rooms. But she read widely and well, and her library contained complete sets of Voltaire and other French masters. Longfellow entered the beautiful old elm-encircled house as a lodger, not knowing that this was to be his home for the rest of his life. In time, it passed into the possession of Nathan Appleton. Seven years after he came to Cambridge, Longfellow married Frances Appleton, daughter of Nathan Appleton, and Craigie House was given to the Longfellows as a wedding gift.

Meantime, in the seven intervening years, he remained a rather romantic figure in Cambridge, with his flowing hair and his yellow gloves and flowered waistcoats. He worked, however, with great determination and industry, publishing 'Hyperion', a prose romance that foreshadowed his love for Frances Appleton, and 'Voices of the Night', his first book of poems. He journeyed again to Europe, wrote 'The Spanish Student', and took his stand with the abolitionists, returning to be married in 1843.

The marriage was a happy one, and the Longfellow house became the center of life in the University town. The old Craigie House was a shrine of hospitality and gracious living. The young people of Cambridge flocked there to play with the five Longfellow children - two boys, and the three girls whom the poet describes in 'The Children's Hour' as "grave Alice and laughing Allegra and Edith with golden hair."

From his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, Longfellow got a brief outline of a story from which he composed one of his most favorite poems, 'Evangeline'. The original story had Evangeline wandering about New England in search of her bridegroom. Longfellow extended her journey through Louisiana and the western wilderness. She finds Gabriel, at last, dying in Philadelphia.

'Evangeline' was published in 1847 and was widely acclaimed. Longfellow began to feel that his work as a teacher was a hindrance to his own writing. In 1854, he resigned from Harvard and with a great sense of freedom gave himself entirely to the joyous task of his own poetic writing. In June of that year, he began 'The Song of Hiawatha'. Henry Schoolcraft's book on Indians and several meetings with an Ojibway chief provided the background for 'Hiawatha'. The long poem begins with Gitche Matino, the Great Spirit, commanding his people to live in peace and tells how Hiawatha is born. It ends with the coming of the white man and Hiawatha's death.

The publication of 'Hiawatha' caused the greatest excitement. For the first time in American literature, Indian themes gained recognition as sources of imagination, power, and originality. The appeal of 'Hiawatha' for generations of children and young people gives it an enduring place in world literature.

The gracious tale of John Alden and Priscilla came next to the poet's mind, and 'The Courtship of Miles Standish' was published in 1858. It is a work which reflects the ease with which he wrote and the pleasure and enjoyment he derived from his skill. Twenty-five thousand copies were sold during the first week of its publication, and 10,000 were ordered in London on the first day of publication.

In 1861, the happy life of the family came to an end. Longfellow's wife died of burns she received when packages of her children's curls, which she wassealing with matches and wax, burst into flame. Longfellow faced the bitterest tragedy of his life. He found some solace in the task of translating Dante into English and went to Europe for a change of scene. The years following were filled with honors. He was given honorary degrees at the great universities of Oxford and Cambridge, invited to Windsor by Queen Victoria, and called by request upon the Prince of Wales. He was chosen a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and of the Spanish Academy.

When it became necessary to remove "the spreading chestnut tree" of Brattle Street, which Longfellow had written about in his 'Village Blacksmith', the children of Cambridge gave their pennies to build a chair out of the tree and gave it to Longfellow. He died on March 24, 1882. "Of all the suns of the New England morning," says Van Wyck Brooks, "he was the largest in his golden sweetness."



136 Poems written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Page ViewsPoemComments
45529 Footsteps of Angels Comments and analysis of Footsteps of Angels by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 8 Comments
37097 THE ARROW AND THE SONG Comments and analysis of THE ARROW AND THE SONG by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 376 Comments
29638 The Day is Done Comments and analysis of The Day is Done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 96 Comments
29083 THE SLAVE'S DREAM Comments and analysis of THE SLAVE'S DREAM by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 239 Comments
27365 The Cross of Snow Comments and analysis of The Cross of Snow by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 450 Comments
26040 RAIN IN SUMMER Comments and analysis of RAIN IN SUMMER by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 29 Comments
22250 The Skeleton in Armor Comments and analysis of The Skeleton in Armor by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 305 Comments
16240 The Reaper and the Flowers Comments and analysis of The Reaper and the Flowers by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 495 Comments
15570 Hymn to the Night Comments and analysis of Hymn to the Night by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 434 Comments
15173 The Sound of the Sea Comments and analysis of The Sound of the Sea by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 2 Comments
14291 Loss And Gain Comments and analysis of Loss And Gain by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 50 Comments
14285 An April Day Comments and analysis of An April Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 4 Comments
13851 It is not Always May Comments and analysis of It is not Always May by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 9 Comments
13803 My Lost Youth Comments and analysis of My Lost Youth by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 17 Comments
12843 God's-Acre Comments and analysis of God's-Acre by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 2 Comments
12757 The Light of Stars Comments and analysis of The Light of Stars by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 256 Comments
12654 Woods in Winter Comments and analysis of Woods in Winter by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 61 Comments
12578 Nature Comments and analysis of Nature by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 27 Comments
11176 Christmas Bells Comments and analysis of Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 9 Comments
10663 Flowers Comments and analysis of Flowers by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 3 Comments
10578 Endymion Comments and analysis of Endymion by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 8 Comments
10360 THE SLAVE SINGING AT MIDNIGHT Comments and analysis of THE SLAVE SINGING AT MIDNIGHT by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 6 Comments
10229 The Landlord's Tale; Paul Revere's Ride Comments and analysis of The Landlord's Tale; Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 71 Comments
9740 Maidenhood Comments and analysis of Maidenhood by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 5 Comments
9615 THE BRIDGE Comments and analysis of THE BRIDGE by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 207 Comments
9406 Snow-Flakes Comments and analysis of Snow-Flakes by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 4 Comments
8859 A GLEAM OF SUNSHINE Comments and analysis of A GLEAM OF SUNSHINE by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1 Comment
8751 TO A CHILD
8698 The Spirit of Poetry Comments and analysis of The Spirit of Poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 11 Comments
8429 THE OLD CLOCK ON THE STAIRS Comments and analysis of THE OLD CLOCK ON THE STAIRS by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 21 Comments
8328 THE EVENING STAR Comments and analysis of THE EVENING STAR by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 40 Comments
8319 Memories Comments and analysis of Memories by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 2 Comments
8306 CURFEW Comments and analysis of CURFEW by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 58 Comments
8271 THE WITNESSES Comments and analysis of THE WITNESSES by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 4 Comments
8153 Aftermath Comments and analysis of Aftermath by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1 Comment
8063 Children Comments and analysis of Children by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 30 Comments
7989 The Revenge of Rain-in-the-Face Comments and analysis of The Revenge of Rain-in-the-Face by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1 Comment
7876 DRINKING SONG Comments and analysis of DRINKING SONG by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 32 Comments
7843 THE ARSENAL AT SPRINGFIELD Comments and analysis of THE ARSENAL AT SPRINGFIELD by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 5 Comments
7801 THE SLAVE IN THE DISMAL SWAMP Comments and analysis of THE SLAVE IN THE DISMAL SWAMP by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 268 Comments
7687 THE WARNING Comments and analysis of THE WARNING by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 3 Comments
7507 Hiawatha's Childhood Comments and analysis of Hiawatha's Childhood by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 120 Comments
7402 Daylight and Moonlight Comments and analysis of Daylight and Moonlight by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1 Comment
7094 Blind Bartimeus Comments and analysis of Blind Bartimeus by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 9 Comments
6810 Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie Comments and analysis of Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 202 Comments
6419 Midnight Mass for the Dying Year Comments and analysis of Midnight Mass for the Dying Year by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 2 Comments
6285 Birds Of Passage Comments and analysis of Birds Of Passage by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 29 Comments
6077 The Challenge of Thor Comments and analysis of The Challenge of Thor by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 6 Comments
5958 Something Left Undone
5953 DANTE Comments and analysis of DANTE by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 2 Comments
5878 The Fire of Drift-wood Comments and analysis of The Fire of Drift-wood by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1 Comment
5776 AUTUMN Comments and analysis of AUTUMN by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 10 Comments
5731 TO THE DRIVING CLOUD Comments and analysis of TO THE DRIVING CLOUD by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 16 Comments
5661 Autumn Within Comments and analysis of Autumn Within by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 2 Comments
5627 Voices Of the Night Comments and analysis of Voices Of the Night by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 14 Comments
5600 The Famine Comments and analysis of The Famine by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 71 Comments
5595 THE BELFRY OF BRUGES
5518 THE GOOD PART, THAT SHALL NOT BE TAKEN AWAY
5383 The Building of the Ship Comments and analysis of The Building of the Ship by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 12 Comments
5140 Changed Comments and analysis of Changed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 2 Comments
5128 The Four Winds Comments and analysis of The Four Winds by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 8 Comments
5094 Hiawatha's Wooing Comments and analysis of Hiawatha's Wooing by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 6 Comments
5025 Introduction To The Song Of Hiawatha Comments and analysis of Introduction To The Song Of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 6 Comments
4887 Hiawatha's Departure Comments and analysis of Hiawatha's Departure by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 49 Comments
4718 Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem at the Consecration of Pulaski's Banner Comments and analysis of Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem at the Consecration of Pulaski's Banner by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 2 Comments
4700 Hiawatha's Fasting Comments and analysis of Hiawatha's Fasting by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 238 Comments
4626 Divina Commedia Comments and analysis of Divina Commedia by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 2 Comments
4578 The Three Kings
4567 TO AN OLD DANISH SONG-BOOK
4435 The Beleaguered City Comments and analysis of The Beleaguered City by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1 Comment
4323 TO WILLIAM E. CHANNING
4267 Blessing The Cornfields Comments and analysis of Blessing The Cornfields by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 42 Comments
4251 Sundown
4099 Burial of the Minnisink
3927 Shakespeare
3857 The Peace-Pipe Comments and analysis of The Peace-Pipe by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 3 Comments
3824 NUREMBERG Comments and analysis of NUREMBERG by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1 Comment
3639 The Poets Comments and analysis of The Poets by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1 Comment
3480 Chaucer
3480 Hiawatha And Mudjekeewis Comments and analysis of Hiawatha And Mudjekeewis by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 12 Comments
3449 The Death Of Kwasind Comments and analysis of The Death Of Kwasind by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 11 Comments
3434 Hiawatha's Fishing Comments and analysis of Hiawatha's Fishing by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 17 Comments
3351 Picture-Writing Comments and analysis of Picture-Writing by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 12 Comments
3262 The Ghosts Comments and analysis of The Ghosts by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 7 Comments
3208 CARILLON
3141 Haroun Al Raschid Comments and analysis of Haroun Al Raschid by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 247 Comments
3051 Belisarius
3033 Keats Comments and analysis of Keats by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 7 Comments
3029 WALTER VON DER VOGELWEID Comments and analysis of WALTER VON DER VOGELWEID by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 6 Comments
2997 THE OCCULTATION OF ORION
2946 Ultima Thule: Dedication to G. W. G. Comments and analysis of Ultima Thule: Dedication to G. W. G. by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 22 Comments
2939 The Warden of the Cinque Ports Comments and analysis of The Warden of the Cinque Ports by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 2 Comments
2928 THE NORMAN BARON Comments and analysis of THE NORMAN BARON by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 197 Comments
2837 The Son Of The Evening Star Comments and analysis of The Son Of The Evening Star by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 7 Comments
2761 Hiawatha's Friends Comments and analysis of Hiawatha's Friends by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 25 Comments
2718 Fata Morgana
2505 King Trisanku Comments and analysis of King Trisanku by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 13 Comments
2477 Thangbrand the Priest
2460 Milton
2445 Pau-Puk-Keewis Comments and analysis of Pau-Puk-Keewis by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 11 Comments
2374 A Psalm of Life Comments and analysis of A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 183 Comments
2340 The Village Blacksmith Comments and analysis of The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 304 Comments
2340 The Village Blacksmith
2300 Sir Humphrey Gilbert Comments and analysis of Sir Humphrey Gilbert by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 7 Comments
2250 Hiawatha's Lamentation Comments and analysis of Hiawatha's Lamentation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 5 Comments
2143 The Rainy Day Comments and analysis of The Rainy Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 516 Comments
2135 Helen of Tyre
2086 Wapentake
2082 Jugurtha Comments and analysis of Jugurtha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 12 Comments
2045 St. John's, Cambridge Comments and analysis of St. John's, Cambridge by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1 Comment
1933 The Hunting Of Pau-Puk Keewis
1597 The Children's Hour Comments and analysis of The Children's Hour by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 89 Comments
1424 Excelsior Comments and analysis of Excelsior by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 295 Comments
1264 Holidays Comments and analysis of Holidays by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 5 Comments
908 MEZZO CAMMIN Comments and analysis of MEZZO CAMMIN by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 220 Comments
776 Old St David's at Radnor Comments and analysis of Old St David's at Radnor by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 37 Comments
755 The Goblet of Life Comments and analysis of The Goblet of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 67 Comments
751 Sunrise on the Hills Comments and analysis of Sunrise on the Hills by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 62 Comments
703 THE QUADROON GIRL Comments and analysis of THE QUADROON GIRL by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 78 Comments
662 The Meeting Comments and analysis of The Meeting by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 30 Comments
650 Morituri Salutamus: Poem for the Fiftieth Anniversary Comments and analysis of Morituri Salutamus: Poem for the Fiftieth Anniversary by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 3 Comments
624 AFTERNOON IN FEBRUARY Comments and analysis of AFTERNOON IN FEBRUARY by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 15 Comments
557 The Wreck of the Hesperus Comments and analysis of The Wreck of the Hesperus by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 324 Comments
550 The Song of Hiawatha: X Comments and analysis of The Song of Hiawatha: X by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 38 Comments
474 Prelude
442 Moonlight Comments and analysis of Moonlight by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 49 Comments
442 The Jewish Cemetery at Newport Comments and analysis of The Jewish Cemetery at Newport by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 2 Comments
410 AUTUMN Comments and analysis of AUTUMN by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 440 Comments
376 Hiawatha's Sailing Comments and analysis of Hiawatha's Sailing by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 52 Comments
331 Tegner's Drapa Comments and analysis of Tegner's Drapa by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 4 Comments
313 The White Man's Foot Comments and analysis of The White Man's Foot by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 9 Comments
312 Seaweed Comments and analysis of Seaweed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1 Comment
276 L'Envoi Comments and analysis of L'Envoi by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 3 Comments
276 Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather Comments and analysis of Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 27 Comments
268 Hiawatha's Wedding-Feast Comments and analysis of Hiawatha's Wedding-Feast by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 11 Comments
247 The Poet's Calendar Comments and analysis of The Poet's Calendar by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 5 Comments
241 To the River Charles Comments and analysis of To the River Charles by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 3 Comments


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