Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Poems


Longfellow was the most popular poet of his day.[130] As a friend once wrote to him, "no other poet was so fully recognized in his lifetime".[131] Many of his works helped shape the American character and its legacy, particularly with the poem "Paul Revere's Ride".[114] He was such an admired figure in the United States during his life that his 70th birthday in 1877 took on the air of a national holiday, with parades, speeches, and the reading of his poetry.

Over the years, Longfellow's personality has become part of his reputation. He has been presented as a gentle, placid, poetic soul: an image perpetuated by his brother Samuel Longfellow, who wrote an early biography which specifically emphasized these points.[132] As James Russell Lowell said, Longfellow had an "absolute sweetness, simplicity, and modesty".[121] At Longfellow's funeral, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson called him "a sweet and beautiful soul".[133] In reality, Longfellow's life was much more difficult than was assumed. He suffered from neuralgia, which caused him constant pain, and he also had poor eyesight. He wrote to friend Charles Sumner: "I do not believe anyone can be perfectly well, who has a brain and a heart".[134] He had difficulty coping with the death of his second wife.[73] Longfellow was very quiet, reserved, and private; in later years, he was known for being unsocial and avoided leaving home.[135] He had become one of the first American celebrities and was also popular in Europe. It was reported that 10,000 copies of The Courtship of Miles Standish sold in London in a single day.[136] Children adored him and, when the "spreading chestnut-tree" mentioned in the poem "The Village Blacksmith" was cut down, the children of Cambridge had the tree converted into an armchair which they presented to the poet.[137] In 1884, Longfellow became the first non-British writer for whom a commemorative sculpted bust was placed in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey in London; he remains the only American poet represented with a bust.[138] In 1909, a seated statue of Longfellow sculpted by William Couper was unveiled in Washington, D. C.

More recently, he was honored in March 2007 when the United States Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating him. A number of schools are named after him in various states as well. Neil Diamond's 1974 hit song, "Longfellow Serenade", is a reference to the poet.[139] He is a protagonist in Matthew Pearl's murder mystery The Dante Club (2003).[140]

Longfellow's popularity rapidly declined, beginning shortly after his death and into the twentieth century as academics began to appreciate poets like Walt Whitman, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Robert Frost.[141] In the twentieth century, literary scholar Kermit Vanderbilt noted, "Increasingly rare is the scholar who braves ridicule to justify the art of Longfellow's popular rhymings."[142] 20th-century poet Lewis Putnam Turco concluded "Longfellow was minor and derivative in every way throughout his career... nothing more than a hack imitator of the English Romantics."[143]

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