Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and "Evangeline". He was also the first American to translate Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy and was one of the five Fireside Poets. Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807, to Stephen Longfellow and Zilpah (Wadsworth) Longfellow in Portland, Maine. He grew up in what is now known as the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. His father was a lawyer, and his maternal grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, was a general in the American Revolutionary War and a Member of Congress.

Longfellow studied at Bowdoin College. After spending time in Europe he became a professor at Bowdoin and, later, at Harvard College. His first major poetry collections were Voices of the Night (1839) and Ballads and Other Poems (1841). The Portland Gazette printed his first at the age of thirteen. Longfellow retired from teaching in 1854 to focus on his writing, living the remainder of his life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a former headquarters of George Washington. His first wife, Mary Potter, died in 1835 after a miscarriage. His second wife, Frances Appleton, died in 1861 after sustaining burns from her dress catching fire. After her death, Longfellow had difficulty writing poetry for a time and focused on his translation. He died in 1882.

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 professor and 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 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.

Longfellow predominantly wrote lyric poems which are known for their musicality and which often presented stories of mythology and legend. He became the most popular American poet of his day and also had success overseas. He has been criticized, however, for imitating European styles and writing specifically for the masses.

Written as a tribute to North American Indians, Longfellow starts his fictional epic poem with the Great Spirit Gitche Manito "the Master of Life" fortelling the coming of a great leader. Hiawatha's deeds of courage and acts of peace with the White Man earn him a legendary place as "Hiawatha the Beloved" among his people. Longfellow's Hiawatha shares the name of the real Mohawk Indian Chief Hiawatha (born c.1400's) who followed De-Ka-Nah-Wi-Da's teachings of peace and was instrumental in the formation of the Iroquois League of Five Nations. Similar to the stories of James Fenimore Cooper including his The Last of the Mohicans (1826), Longfellow drew upon works written at the time about the Indian tribes of North America including Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's (1793-1864) Algic Researches (1839). Sympathetic to the Indians and their way of life, Longfellow blends fact and legend to weave a romantic tale written in the style of the Finnish National Epic poem "Kalevala", written by Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884). Hiawatha's marriage to Minnehaha and overly romanticised elements caused some controversy when Song of Hiawatha first appeared. His tone is at-times sentimental and moralising, and he uses unorthodox meters, but it earned him much esteem from his contemporaries. Longfellow enjoyed international acclaim during his lifetime and today Song of Hiawatha is celebrated as his best-known work. Longfellow had a lifelong friendship with fellow New Englander and author Nathaniel Hawthorne, whom he met at College. He was acquainted with many other noted literary figures of his day including Lord Alfred Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, and Walt Whitman. Queen Victoria invited him to tea and he received honorary doctoral degrees from Cambridge and Oxford Universities, indicative of his popularity outside of the United States.

On August 22, 1879, a female admirer traveled to Longfellow's house in Cambridge and, unaware to whom she was speaking, asked Longfellow: "Is this the house where Longfellow was born?" Longfellow told her it was not. The visitor then asked if he had died here. "Not yet", he replied. In March 1882, Longfellow went to bed with severe stomach pain. He endured the pain for several days with the help of opium before he died surrounded by family on Friday, March 24, 1882. He had been suffering from peritonitis. He is buried with both of his wives at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His last few years were spent translating the poetry of Michelangelo; though Longfellow never considered it complete enough to be published during his lifetime, a posthumous edition was collected in 1883. Scholars generally regard the work as autobiographical, reflecting the translator as an aging artist facing his impending death.

Books: 

Novels

* Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea (Travelogue) (1835)
* Hyperion, a Romance (1839)
* The Spanish Student. A Play in Three Acts (1843)
* Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie (epic poem) (1847)
* Kavanagh: A Tale (1849)
* The Golden Legend (poem) (1851)
* The Song of Hiawatha (epic poem) (1855)
* The Children's Hour (1860)
* Household Poems (1865)
* The New England Tragedies (1868)
* The Divine Tragedy (1871)
* Christus: A Mystery (1872)
* Aftermath (poem) (1873)
* The Reaper and the Flowers (1839)
* The Bell of Atri (from The Sicilian's Tale) (1863–72)

Poetry collections

* Voices of the Night (1839)
* Ballads and Other Poems (1841)
* Poems on Slavery (1842)
* The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems (1845)
* Birds of Passage (1845)
* The Seaside and the Fireside (1850)
* The Courtship of Miles Standish and Other Poems (1858)
* Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863)
* Flower-de-Luce (1867)
* Three Books of Song (1872)
* The Masque of Pandora and Other Poems (1875)
* Kéramos and Other Poems (1878)
* Ultima Thule (1880)
* In the Harbor (1882)
* Michel Angelo: A Fragment (incomplete; published posthumously)

Translations

* Coplas de Don Jorge Manrique (Translation from Spanish) (1833)
* Dante's Divine Comedy (Translation) (1867)

Anthologies

* Poets and Poetry of Europe (Translations) (1844)
* The Waif (1845)
* Poems of Places (1874)