English Literature » Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine—then still part of Massachusetts—on February 27, 1807, the second son in a family of eight children. His mother, Zilpah Wadsworth, was the daughter of a Revolutionary War hero. His father, Stephen Longfellow, was a prominent Portland lawyer and later a member of Congress.

Henry was a dreamy boy who loved to read. He heard sailors speaking Spanish, French and German in the Portland streets and liked stories set in foreign places: The Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe, and the plays of Shakespeare.

After graduating from Bowdoin College, Longfellow studied modern languages in Europe for three years, then returned to Bowdoin to teach them. In 1831 he married Mary Storer Potter of Portland, a former classmate, and soon published his first book, a description of his travels called Outre Mer (“Overseas”). But in November 1835, during a second trip to Europe, Longfellow’s life was shaken when his wife died during a miscarriage. The young teacher spent a grief-stricken year in Germany and Switzerland.

Longfellow took a position at Harvard in 1836. Three years later, at the age of thirty-two, he published his first collection of poems, Voices of the Night, followed in 1841 by Ballads and Other Poems. Many of these poems (“A Psalm of Life,” for example) showed people triumphing over adversity, and in a struggling young nation that theme was inspiring. Both books were very popular, but Longfellow’s growing duties as a professor left him little time to write more. In addition, Frances Appleton, a young woman from Boston, had refused his proposal of marriage.

Frances finally accepted his proposal the following spring, ushering in the happiest eighteen years of Longfellow’s life. The couple had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood, and the marriage gave him new confidence. In 1847, he published Evangeline, a book-length poem about what would now be called “ethnic cleansing.” The poem takes place as the British drive the French from Nova Scotia, and two lovers are parted, only to find each other years later when the man is about to die.

In 1854, Longfellow decided to quit teaching to devote all his time to poetry. He published Hiawatha, a long poem about Native American life, and The Courtship of Miles Standish and Other Poems. Both books were immensely successful, but Longfellow was now preoccupied with national events. With the country moving toward civil war, he wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride,” a call for courage in the coming conflict.

A few months after the war began in 1861, Frances Longfellow was sealing an envelope with wax when her dress caught fire. Despite her husband’s desperate attempts to save her, she died the next day. Profoundly saddened, Longfellow published nothing for the next two years. He found comfort in his family and in reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. (Later, he produced its first American translation.) Tales of a Wayside Inn,<> largely written before his wife’s death, was published in 1863.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, the poet was fifty-eight. His most important work was finished, but his fame kept growing. In London alone, twenty-four different companies were publishing his work. His poems were popular throughout the English-speaking world, and they were widely translated, making him the most famous American of his day. His admirers included Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, and Charles Baudelaire.

From 1866 to 1880, Longfellow published seven more books of poetry, and his seventy-fifth birthday in 1882 was celebrated across the country. But his health was failing, and he died the following month, on March 24. When Walt Whitman heard of the poet’s death, he wrote that, while Longfellow’s work “brings nothing offensive or new, does not deal hard blows,” he was the sort of bard most needed in a materialistic age: “He comes as the poet of melancholy, courtesy, deference—poet of all sympathetic gentleness—and universal poet of women and young people. I should have to think long if I were ask’d to name the man who has done more and in more valuable directions, for America.”

Poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  1. A Gleam Of Sunshine
  2. A Nameless Grave
  3. A Psalm of Life
  4. A Shadow
  5. A Song Of Savoy
  6. A Summer Day By The Sea
  7. Aftermath
  8. Afternoon In February
  9. Agassiz
  10. An April Day
  11. Autumn
  12. Autumn Within
  13. Autumnal Nightfall
  14. Beleaguered City, The
  15. Belisarius
  16. Birds Of Passage
  17. Blessing The Cornfields
  18. Blind Bartimeus
  19. Boston
  20. Burial Of The Minnisink
  21. Canzone
  22. Carillon
  23. Chaucer
  24. Children
  25. Christmas Bells
  26. Curfew
  27. Dante
  28. Daylight And Moonlight
  29. Divina Commedia
  30. Drinking Song
  31. Elliot’s Oak
  32. Evening Star, The
  33. Excelsior
  34. Fata Morgana
  35. Flowers
  36. Footsteps Of Angels
  37. Garfield
  38. God’s-Acre
  39. Haroun Al Raschid
  40. Helen Of Tyre
  41. Hermes Trismegistus
  42. Hiawatha And Mudjekeewis
  43. Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather
  44. Hiawatha’s Childhood
  45. Hiawatha’s Departure
  46. Hiawatha’s Fasting
  47. Hiawatha’s Fishing
  48. Hiawatha’s Friends
  49. Hiawatha’s Lamentation
  50. Hiawatha’s Sailing
  51. Hiawatha’s Wedding-Feast
  52. Holidays
  53. Hymn For My Brother’s Ordination
  54. Hymn to the Night
  55. I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
  56. Inscription On The Shanklin Fountain
  57. It Is Not Always May
  58. Italian Scenery
  59. Jeckoyva
  60. Jugurtha
  61. Keats
  62. Kéramos
  63. King Trisanku
  64. L’Envoi
  65. Light Of Stars, The
  66. Loss And Gain
  67. Maidenhood
  68. Mezzo Cammin
  69. Midnight Mass For The Dying Year
  70. Milton
  71. Moods
  72. Moonlight
  73. Morituri Salutamus: Poem for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Class of 1825 in Bowdoin College
  74. Mr. Finney’s Turnip
  75. Musings
  76. My Books
  77. My Lost Youth
  78. Nature
  79. Nuremberg
  80. O Ship Of State
  81. Old St David’s At Radnor
  82. Pau-Puk-Keewis
  83. Pegasus in Pound
  84. Picture-Writing
  85. Rain In Summer
  86. Seaweed
  87. Shakespeare
  88. Sir Humphrey Gilbert
  89. Sleep
  90. Snow-flakes
  91. Something Left Undone
  92. Song
  93. Sound Of The Sea, The
  94. Spirit Of Poetry, The
  95. Sundown
  96. Sunrise On The Hills
  97. Suspiria
  98. Tegner’s Drapa
  99. Thangbrand The Priest
  100. Thanksgiving
  101. The Arrow and the Song
  102. The Arsenal at Springfield
  103. The Belfrey Of Bruges
  104. The Bells of San Blas
  105. The Bridge
  106. The Broken Oar
  107. The Building of the Ship
  108. The Burial Of The Poet
  109. The Challenge of Thor
  110. The Chamber Over The Gate
  111. The Children’s Hour
  112. The Courtship Of Miles Standish
  113. The Cross of Snow
  114. The Day is Done
  115. The Death Of Kwasind
  116. The Demoniac Of Gadara
  117. The Descent Of The Muses
  118. The Evening Star
  119. The Famine
  120. The Fire of Drift-wood
  121. The Four Winds
  122. The Galaxy
  123. The Ghosts
  124. The Goblet Of Life
  125. The Good Part That Shall Not Be Taken Away
  126. The Hanging Of The Crane
  127. The Harvest Moon
  128. The Hunting Of Pau-Puk Keewis
  129. The Indian Hunter
  130. The Jewish Cemetery at Newport
  131. The Ladder of St. Augustine
  132. The Landlord’s Tale. Paul Revere’s Ride
  133. The Lunatic Girl
  134. The Masque Of Pandora
  135. The Meeting
  136. The Norman Baron
  137. The Occultation Of Orion
  138. The Old Bridge At Florence
  139. The Old Clock on the Stairs
  140. The Peace-Pipe
  141. The Poet’s Calendar
  142. The Poets
  143. The Psalm Of Life
  144. The Quadroon Girl
  145. The Rainy Day
  146. The Reaper And The Flowers
  147. The Republic
  148. The Revenge Of Rain-In-The-Face
  149. The Sea Diver
  150. The Skeleton in Armor
  151. The Slave In The Dismal Swamp
  152. The Slave’s Dream
  153. The Son Of The Evening Star
  154. The Sound Of The Sea
  155. The Three Kings
  156. The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls
  157. The Two Rivers
  158. The Venetian Gondolier
  159. The Village Blacksmith
  160. The White Man’s Foot
  161. The White Tzar
  162. The Witnesses
  163. The Wreck of the Hesperus
  164. There was a little girl
  165. Three Friends Of Mine
  166. To A Child
  167. To The Driving Cloud
  168. To The River Charles
  169. To The River Rhone
  170. To Vittoria Colonna. (Sonnet V.)
  171. Ultima Thule: Dedication to G. W. G.
  172. Ultima Thule: The Windmill
  173. Venice
  174. Village Blacksmith, The
  175. Vittoria Colonna
  176. Voices Of The Night
  177. Wapentake
  178. Woods In Winter
  179. Woodstock Park