Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: The Quintessential American Poet
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a poet who was deeply entrenched in both the fabric of the American spirit and American history, He was born in Portland, Maine on February 27, 1807 which was still a part of Massachusetts and was a direct descendant of the Pilgrims that settled at Plymouth Rock, and his mother, Zilpath Wasdsworth, was a daughter of an American Revolutionary hero and his father, Stephan Longfellow, was a highly successful Portland lawyer who served in the U.S. Congress.
Longfellow himself would achieve much success himself as a great American poet in his lifetime and, It was written by a friend of his that “no other poet was so recognized was so fully recognized in his lifetime,” and Wikipedia asserts that “Many of his works helped shape the American and its legacy particularly with the historical poem ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’,” He was so popular, in fact, that there were parades given for him on his 70th birthday.
But this great American poet, however, was not without sorrow and tragedy in his life as he first lost his first wife, Mary Storer Potter, due to a miscarriage during a trip to live overseas and his second wife when she accidentally set herself on fire attempting to seal an envelope containing locks of her children’s hair with hot wax, And Longfellow was so grieved by the death of the former wife that he wrote “One thoughtr occupies me night and day…She id dead—She is dead! All day I am weary and sad”. And after the death of his second wife he wrote the sad, poignant sonnet “The Cross of Snow.”
The Cross of Snow
In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face — the face of one long dead —
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.
Longfellow mainly specialized in writing a very musical form of lyric poetry, but he also wrote in free verse, blank verse and sonnets such as the form above, but he was more than just a poet, he was a linguist adept in modern European languages such as German and Dutch and an expert in translating Latin into English and his translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy into English was an important part of his life’s work and he was also known to be a great educator who was commissioned to teach modern European languages at the iconic Harvard University. Longfellow wrote at least eight books in all including The Song of Hiawatha about life for the Native American’s in America and Evangeline a book length poem about about the separation of two ardent lovers during az British war against the French on Canada and their rediscovery of each other in old age,
Longfellow died of acute peritonitis in March of 1882 at age 75 and was perhaps America’s closest rival to Briton’s great bard Shakespeare himself.