Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Poems

Prosody and its Relationship to the Divine in Longfellow's "The Day is Done"

In his famous essay "The Poet," Emerson claims that men who are skilled in the use of words are not true poets, saying, "...we do not speak now of men of poetical talents, or of industry and skill in metre, but of the true poet" (qtd. in Richards, 103). And slightly later, he adds, "For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument, that makes a poem" (104). According to Emerson, a poet who values form over thought is not a poet at all, but rather merely a skilled manipulator of words. For him, a poet must be the articulator of some genuine thought or argument; it does not suffice to merely create a poem solely on the sound and effect of words.

In 1844, the same year that Emerson published his essay, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published "The Day is Done," a poem that argues directly against the point made in "The Poet." Longfellow is hyperaware of the meter, rhyme, word choice, and overall sound of his poem; in fact, those elements are what make the poem a cohesive and successful piece of work. As a result of Longfellow's attention to the effect of the words and seeming disregard for what Emerson would call a "metre-making argument," "The Day is Done"...

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