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About this poet

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine—then still part of Massachusetts—on February 27, 1807, the second son in a family of eight children. His mother, Zilpah Wadsworth, was the daughter of a Revolutionary War hero. His father, Stephen Longfellow, was a prominent Portland lawyer and later a member of Congress.

Henry was a dreamy boy who loved to read. He heard sailors speaking Spanish, French and German in the Portland streets and liked stories set in foreign places: The Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe, and the plays of Shakespeare.

After graduating from Bowdoin College, Longfellow studied modern languages in Europe for three years, then returned to Bowdoin to teach them. In 1831 he married Mary Storer Potter of Portland, a former classmate, and soon published his first book, a description of his travels called Outre Mer ("Overseas"). But in November 1835, during a second trip to Europe, Longfellow's life was shaken when his wife died during a miscarriage. The young teacher spent a grief-stricken year in Germany and Switzerland.

Longfellow took a position at Harvard in 1836. Three years later, at the age of 32, he published his first collection of poems, Voices of the Night, followed in 1841 by Ballads and Other Poems. Many of these poems ("A Psalm of Life," for example) showed people triumphing over adversity, and in a struggling young nation that theme was inspiring. Both books were very popular, but Longfellow's growing duties as a professor left him little time to write more. In addition, Frances Appleton, a young woman from Boston, had refused his proposal of marriage.

Frances finally accepted his proposal the following spring, ushering in the happiest 18 years of Longfellow's life. The couple had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood, and the marriage gave him new confidence. In 1847, he published Evangeline, a book-length poem about what would now be called "ethnic cleansing." The poem takes place as the British drive the French from Nova Scotia, and two lovers are parted, only to find each other years later when the man is about to die.

In 1854, Longfellow decided to quit teaching to devote all his time to poetry. He published Hiawatha, a long poem about Native American life, and The Courtship of Miles Standish and Other Poems. Both books were immensely successful, but Longfellow was now preoccupied with national events. With the country moving toward civil war, he wrote "Paul Revere's Ride," a call for courage in the coming conflict.

A few months after the war began in 1861, Frances Longfellow was sealing an envelope with wax when her dress caught fire. Despite her husband's desperate attempts to save her, she died the next day. Profoundly saddened, Longfellow published nothing for the next two years. He found comfort in his family and in reading Dantes Divine Comedy. (Later, he produced its first American translation.) Tales of a Wayside Inn, largely written before his wife's death, was published in 1863.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, the poet was 58. His most important work was finished, but his fame kept growing. In London alone, 24 different companies were publishing his work. His poems were popular throughout the English-speaking world, and they were widely translated, making him the most famous American of his day. His admirers included Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, and Charles Baudelaire.

From 1866 to 1880, Longfellow published seven more books of poetry, and his seventy-fifth birthday in 1882 was celebrated across the country. But his health was failing, and he died the following month, on March 24. When Walt Whitman heard of the poet's death, he wrote that, while Longfellow's work "brings nothing offensive or new, does not deal hard blows," he was the sort of bard most needed in a materialistic age: "He comes as the poet of melancholy, courtesy, deference—poet of all sympathetic gentleness—and universal poet of women and young people. I should have to think long if I were ask'd to name the man who has done more and in more valuable directions, for America."

Frank Beck contributed to the writing and research of this profile of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Aftermath (1873)
Ballads and Other Poems (1841)
Christus: A Mystery (1872)
Evangeline (1847)
Flower-de-Luce (1867)
Household Poems (1863)
Keramos and Other Poems (1878)
Poems on Slavery (1842)
Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863)
The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems (1845)
The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858)
The Golden Legend (1851)
The Masque of Pandora and Other Poems (1875)
The Seaside and Fireside (1849)
The Song of Hiawatha (1855)
Three Books of Song (1872)
Ultima Thule (1880)
Voices of the Night (1839)

Prose

The New England Tragedies (1868)

Drama

The Spanish Student (1843)

Essays

Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimmage Beyond the Sea (1835)

Fiction

Hyperion: A Romance (1839)
Kavanagh: A Tale (1849)

Poetry in Translation

The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (1867)

The Song of Hiawatha [excerpt]

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 - 1882
The Death of Minnehaha
  
All day long roved Hiawatha  
In that melancholy forest,  
Through the shadow of whose thickets,  
In the pleasant days of Summer,  
Of that ne’er forgotten Summer,           
He had brought his young wife homeward  
From the land of the Dacotahs;  
When the birds sang in the thickets,  
And the streamlets laughed and glistened,  
And the air was full of fragrance,            
And the lovely Laughing Water  
Said with voice that did not tremble,  
"I will follow you, my husband!"  
  In the wigwam with Nokomis,  
With those gloomy guests that watched her,            
With the Famine and the Fever,  
She was lying, the Beloved,  
She, the dying Minnehaha.  
  "Hark!" she said; "I hear a rushing,  
Hear a roaring and a rushing,            
Hear the Falls of Minnehaha  
Calling to me from a distance!"  
"No, my child!" said old Nokomis,  
"’T is the night-wind in the pine-trees!"  
  "Look!" she said; "I see my father            
Standing lonely at his doorway,  
Beckoning to me from his wigwam  
In the land of the Dacotahs!"  
"No, my child!" said old Nokomis,  
"’T is the smoke, that waves and beckons!"            
  "Ah!" said she, "the eyes of Pauguk  
Glare upon me in the darkness,  
I can feel his icy fingers  
Clasping mine amid the darkness!  
Hiawatha! Hiawatha!"            
  And the desolate Hiawatha,  
Far away amid the forest,  
Miles away among the mountains,  
Heard that sudden cry of anguish,  
Heard the voice of Minnehaha            
Calling to him in the darkness,  
"Hiawatha! Hiawatha!"  
  Over snow-fields waste and pathless,  
Under snow-encumbered branches,  
Homeward hurried Hiawatha,            
Empty-handed, heavy-hearted,  
Heard Nokomis moaning, wailing:  
"Wahonowin! Wahonowin!  
Would that I had perished for you,  
Would that I were dead as you are!            
Wahonowin! Wahonowin!"  
  And he rushed into the wigwam,  
Saw the old Nokomis slowly  
Rocking to and fro and moaning,  
Saw his lovely Minnehaha            
Lying dead and cold before him,  
And his bursting heart within him  
Uttered such a cry of anguish,  
That the forest moaned and shuddered,  
That the very stars in heaven            
Shook and trembled with his anguish  
  Then he sat down, still and speechless,  
On the bed of Minnehaha,  
At the feet of Laughing Water,  
At those willing feet, that never            
More would lightly run to meet him,  
Never more would lightly follow.  
  With both hands his face he covered,  
Seven long days and nights he sat there,  
As if in a swoon he sat there,            
Speechless, motionless, unconscious  
Of the daylight or the darkness.  
  Then they buried Minnehaha;  
In the snow a grave they made her,  
In the forest deep and darksome,            
Underneath the moaning hemlocks;  
Clothed her in her richest garments,  
Wrapped her in her robes of ermine,  
Covered her with snow, like ermine;  
Thus they buried Minnehaha.            
  And at night a fire was lighted,  
On her grave four times was kindled,  
For her soul upon its journey  
To the Islands of the Blessed.  
From his doorway Hiawatha            
Saw it burning in the forest,  
Lighting up the gloomy hemlocks;  
From his sleepless bed uprising,  
From the bed of Minnehaha,  
Stood and watched it at the doorway,            
That it might not be extinguished,  
Might not leave her in the darkness.  
  "Farewell!" said he, "Minnehaha!  
Farewell, O my Laughing Water!  
All my heart is buried with you,            
All my thoughts go onward with you!  
Come not back again to labor,  
Come not back again to suffer,  
Where the Famine and the Fever  
Wear the heart and waste the body.             
Soon my task will be completed,  
Soon your footsteps I shall follow  
To the Islands of the Blessed,  
To the Kingdom of Ponemah,  
To the Land of the Hereafter!"

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the "Fireside Poets," wrote lyrical poems about history, mythology, and legend that were popular and widely translated, making him the most famous American of his day. 

by this poet

poem
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced
poem
When winter winds are piercing chill,
  And through the hawthorn blows the gale,
With solemn feet I tread the hill,
  That overbrows the lonely vale. 

O'er the bare upland, and away
  Through the long reach of desert woods,
The embracing sunbeams chastely play,
  And gladden these deep solitudes. 

Where,
poem
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play, 
    And wild and sweet 
    The words repeat 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And thought how, as the day had come, 
The belfries of all Christendom 
    Had rolled along 
    The unbroken song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!