A Fellow’s Long Worth
How does one describe a poet when he has already described himself with his own words? Although Henry Wadsworth Longfellow isn’t popular, he is such a poet. As described by Arnold Bennett, Longfellow is "the chief minor poet of the English language." Among a harsh lineup of critics, however, they claimed he fell short of literary. This is quite the contrary.
Longfellow attended Bowdoin college, near Portland, Maine where he was born and raised. The college offered him the newly formed position as chair of modern languages. "Two things are striking about this event: the informality of the academic approach to language studies and the obvious natural gift that Longfellow possessed" (Fuller 3). Traveling throughout Europe before settling into his new job (as well as during numerous trips after), Longfellow practically learned the languages by osmosis. He could speak splendid amounts of French, Spanish, Italian, German and some Scandinavian.
After leaving Bowdoin, he later taught at Harvard University. At this time, his pen began to constantly scratch prose and poetry. After almost twenty years as a professor, Longfellow retired and devoted himself to his craft of poetry.
After tasting random stanzas and meters of Longfellow’s work, it is easy to identify his tone: uplifting, positive and somewhat glowing. Along with his shorter pieces that evoke positive feelings, Longfellow also tells stories with his longer poetry. He used lyrical verses to describe, weave and introduce new characters or feelings. From the poem "The Skeleton in Armor" to "Paul Revere’s Ride," Longfellow opened up worlds with his words, whether as real as the Revolutionary War, or as mystic as Nordic my...
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...t, overall, passion was underneath his skin. As he wrote in "Michael Angelo: A Fragment," "The fever to accomplish some great work that will not let us sleep. I must go on until I die."
It is unfair that Longfellow isn’t praised more as an American poet, especially with a backpack heavy with accomplishments. His hike through the literary world was rugged, but his perseverance left readers with kind, unassuming meter and lyric.
Fuller, Edmund. Introduction. Poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1967. 1-13.
Untermeyer, Louis. Introduction. The American Poets: Longfellow. By Henry Wadwsworth Longfellow. New York: The Heritage Press, 1943. ix-xv.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: His Poetry and Prose. New York: The Ungar Publishing Company, 1986.
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