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Definition: Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth from Philip's Encyclopedia

US poet. Longfellow's escapist poetry was extremely successful in his lifetime. He is best known for his long narrative poems, such as Evangeline (1847), The Song of Hiawatha (1855), The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858), and Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), which includes 'Paul Revere's Ride'. Influenced by European Romanticism, Longfellow combined archaic rhythms to enliven American mythology. Ballads and Other Poems (1842) contains two of his most popular shorter poems, 'The Wreck of the Hesperus' and 'The Village Blacksmith'.

Summary Article: Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth
from American Civil War: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document collection

Birth Date: February 27, 1807

Death Date: March 24, 1882

American poet, educator, translator, and linguist. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine (then part of Massachusetts), on February 27, 1807. He attended Bowdoin College and began to write poetry, which was published in various magazines and newspapers. After graduating in 1825, he traveled to Europe, where he studied French, Italian, German, and Spanish. Longfellow returned to the United States in the early summer of 1829 and became a professor of modern languages at his alma mater. In the meantime, he continued to compose poetry and translate foreign poetry into English.

In 1836 Longfellow joined the faculty of Harvard College as a professor of modern languages. Thereafter, he broadened his linguistic studies to include Danish, Swedish, and Icelandic, among other languages. By 1839, Longfellow's poetic output had greatly increased, and he began publishing in numerous prestigious outlets. By the mid-1850s, he had become one of the nation's premier poets and was certainly its most popular. Longfellow supported abolitionist efforts and frequently wrote of his hopes that the North and South would one day be able to coexist in harmony. His first abolitionist work, Poems of Slavery, was published in 1842. Although known best for his lyric style, Longfellow also composed poems employing free verse, sonnets, heroic couplets, and ballads, among other forms. Some of Longfellow's contemporary critics accused him of being overly slavish to existing European poetic forms, but this did not diminish his popularity.

In 1861 amid the turmoil of the start of the Civil War, Longfellow published what was perhaps his most popular poem, “Paul Revere's Ride,” which was an attempt to provide the nation with a patriotic, unifying message in the midst of great discord and disunion. Longfellow's wife died that year, and grief over the loss prevented him from composing new poetry for several years. Nevertheless, he busied himself with more translations, and he became the first American to translate Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy into English.

Longfellow's talents earned him much praise, an adoring public, and considerable money. Indeed, he became by the 1860s America's first celebrity poet, recognized as such both abroad and in the United States. He also influenced a host of other poets. After a period of physical decline during which he became rather cloistered, Longfellow died on March 24, 1882, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After his death and continuing into the 20th century, Longfellow's work became increasingly less popular.

See also

Abolitionism and the Civil War; Literature

Further Reading
  • Calhoun, Charles C. Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life. Beacon Boston, 2004.
  • Wagenknecht, Edward. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Portrait of an American Humanist. Oxford University Press New York, 1966.
  • Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr.
    Copyright 2013 by Spencer C. Tucker

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