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In Celebration of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 204th Birthday

One of the biggest trials in the life of every sixth grader at my elementary school was the dreaded memorization and recitation of “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. We only had to know an excerpt, but that excerpt was still rather terrifying. I remember the night I finally got over my procrastination and sat down to start learning the poem. To my surprise, the words flowed so smoothly that getting them stuck in my head was positively easy. Longfellow became a friend that day, and I’ve appreciated him ever since. In honor of his 204th birthday, here are some books about or by him that are found in the AA/PG Library.

This part of a Longfellow poem is used on the title page of a book (titled Henry W. Longfellow: Biography, Anecdote, Letters, Criticism) to describe the man who penned it:

“A student of old books and days, To whom all tongues and lands were known, And yet a lover of his own; With many a social virtue graced, And yet a friend of solitude; A man of such a genial mood The heart of all things he embraced, And yet of such fastidious taste, He never found the best too good.”—Tales of a Wayside Inn

The book was published in 1882. Interestingly, this was the same year in which Longfellow died on March 24. The first half of Henry W. Longfellow describes the poet’s life, while the rest of the work contains letters he wrote, criticisms of his work, and some of his poetry. In a section called “Gen. James Grant Wilson’s Reminiscences,” an excerpt of a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (a contemporary of Longfellow’s) is included:

“Say not the poet dies! Though in the dust he lies, He cannot forfeit his melodious breath, Unsphered by envious Death! Life drops the voiceless myriads from its roll: Their fate he cannot share, Who, in the enchanted air, Sweet with the lingering strains that Echo stole, Has left his dearest self, the music of his soul!”

There are several other works at the AA/PG Library that detail Longfellow’s life. One such book is titled Literary Pioneers: Early American Explorers of European Culture. Though information on Longfellow only makes up one part of this book, the chapter that bears his name is very useful and detailed, particularly for anyone interested in learning about his trips to Europe. A more detailed account of the poet’s life is found in the book Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: His Life, His Works, His Friendships. This volume covers everything from Longfellow’s ancestry to his work translating Dante’s Divine Comedy.

For anyone wishing to read some of Longfellow’s work, the AA/PG Library has several options. A reader searching for a simple, brief sampling can find a very manageable solution in the book Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This small work has only sixty pages and contains sixteen poems, including “Excelsior” and “The Village Blacksmith.” Another book, The Song of Hiawatha, is available for more ambitious readers. The poem is found in its entirety in this slightly more bulky volume, as are many illustrations.

Though some may consider poetry to be dead, the longevity of the works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a clear piece of evidence to the contrary. To finish this post, I’ll let him do a bit of self-advertising with this poem found in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

“The Day Is Done”

The day is done, and the darkness Falls from the wings of Night, As a feather is wafted downward From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village Gleam through the rain and the mist, And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing, That is not akin to pain. And resembles sorrow only As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem, Some simple and heartfelt lay, That shall soothe this restless feeling, And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters, Not from the bards sublime, Whose distant footsteps echo Through the corridors of Time.

For, like s trains of martial music, Their might thoughts suggest Life’s endless toil and endeavour; And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet, Whose songs gushed from his heart, As showers from the clouds of summer, Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labour, And nights devoid of ease, Still heard in his soul the music Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet The restless pulse of care, And come like the benediction That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume The poem of thy choice, And lend to the rhyme of the poet The beauty of thy voice…

Books mentioned in this post (all of which can be found at the AA/PG Library):

Henry W. Longfellow: Biography, Anecdote, Letters, Criticism, by W. Sloane Kennedy

Literary Pioneers: Early American Explorers of European Culture, by Orie William Long

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: His Life, His Works, His Friendships, by George Lowell Austin

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, selected and with an introduction by Geoffrey Moore

The Song of Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with an introduction by Dr. Frank W. Gunsaulus

Related Items:

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: A Sketch of His Life by Charles Eliot Norton

Longfellow Redux, by Christoph Irmscher

Papers presented at the Longfellow Commemorative Conference : April 1-3, 1982, coordinated by the National Park Service, Longfellow National Historical Park

Alexandra Machita

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