Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“Under a spreading chestnut tree; the village smithy stands.” The opening line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith” wonderfully demonstrates his writing style. Longfellow loved to write about the ordinary things he witnessed around him. Within this poem Longfellow writes about a tree and a smithy shop that he would pass by every day on his way to work in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This simple style of writing greatly endeared him to the common man. He was so loved by the townspeople of Cambridge that when the tree was cut down they decided to make him a gift. Two of his neighbors rallied seven hundred school children to raise money to pay for design and construction of an armchair to be made of wood from the tree. The chair was presented to him on his 72nd birthday. This example shows how Henry Longfellow came to be America’s favorite poet.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine on February 27th, 1807. He ,the second of eight children, was enrolled in a dame school at the very young age of three. He enjoyed reading and studying rather than doing “normal boy things”. After years of private school he enrolled at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, at the age of fifteen. He started studying to be a lawyer because he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. During his senior year Longfellow wrote to his father: “I will not disguise it in the least... the fact is, I most eagerly aspire after future eminence in literature”. Although this disappointed his father, Longfellow actively pursued his dream of becoming a writer. After graduation Longfellow toured Europe, studying languages and cultures, preparing him for his job as a professor. It was during his years as a professor that his writing career flourished.


One of the most prominent events in Longfellow’s life is also one of the most tragic. Longfellow became so busy that his second wife, Frances Appleton, who he had courted for seven years, began to help him with his correspondence. One day, while sealing a letter with wax, she dripped some on her dress which caught fire. Longfellow was nearby and tried to put out the fire, but his efforts proved unsuccessful. Frances died the next day from burns. While he was trying to put out the fire, he received multiple burns on his face which later resulted in facial sensitivity. Because his face ended up so sensitive, he could not shave, which led to the beard we see in the portraits from his later life. Sadly, after this Longfellow had a hard time writing poetry, but eventually began writing again. His first poem after the death of his wife was about his grief over losing her.


There exists some conflict over the fame of Longfellow. There are some writers, including Edgar Allen Poe, who criticize and demean Longfellow. They think that because he wrote about ordinary, day-to-day things, his writing should not be put in the category of great literature. Despite these comments Longfellow has retained his popularity as a great American poet. To this day, he is the only American poet to be honored in the poet’s corner of Westminster Abbey. After retiring from an esteemed teaching position, he received an Honorary Degree of Laws from Harvard. He was also received by many great dignitaries such as Queen Victoria, who read and loved his work. Lastly, he was honored in 2007 by the United States Postal Service when a stamp containing his portrait was created.


As shown above, Longfellow received many awards recognizing his talent, but most of his recognition was seen in the common people’s love for him and his poetry. His great reputation grew rapidly during his life, and he became the most popular poet of his day. He was so admired in his later years that his 70th birthday was almost considered a national holiday. He had become what would now be known as an American celebrity. He was loved by the American people for his kind personality and his simple depiction of the American lifestyle and countryside. His legacy for these characteristics continues to this day.



Resources:

Unknown, "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Biography - Poems." http://www.poemofquotes.com/henrywadsworthlongfellow/ (accessed March 6, 2009).

Unknown, "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)." http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=81397#bibliography (accessed March 6, 2009).

Wikipedia, "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Wadsworth_Longfellow (accessed March 6th, 2009).





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