America’s First and Greatest Poet

April 13, 2009
By Sonja SILVER, Tucson, Arizona
Sonja SILVER, Tucson, Arizona
7 articles 0 photos 1 comment

An inspirational poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, composed an astonishing 174 poems, each with its own unique tone and emotion, during his lifetime. Few poets have the ability to incorporate such sentiment into their poems, as Henry Longfellow has. Chiefly lyrical renditions of popular folklore and legends, Henry’s poems help the readers to understand the stories of old in a never before light. Henry had traveled Europe by age 18, and even had a job as a professor in a new college. Not only a poet, but a linguistic expert as well, he possessed many talents. Henry’s legacy is engrained in American culture and literature for he left his mark upon the founding colonies.

Born on February 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine, as the second of eight children, Henry’s life was not what one would call quiet. Henry at the age of three had almost completely mastered the alphabet, and at age six, young Henry had already mastered Latin grammar, spelling, reading and multiplication. At the ripe old age of fourteen, he began college at Bowdoin with his brother, and after Bowdoin College, he traveled Europe before taking up the professorship that had been offered him in a new college. Shortly following this, Henry espoused Mary Storer Potter, a childhood comrade, yet unfortunately while traveling abroad Mary miscarried and after several weeks of illness, she died. Four years later, Henry courted Frances Appleton for seven long years, since Frances had initially rejected his suit. Once espoused, Fanny and Henry had six children over a span of eleven years, sharing great happiness. Yet, this happiness did not last, for on July 9, 1861, Fanny burned herself badly, and when Henry tried to put out the flames, he too burned himself, so badly in fact that he found himself unable to go to her funeral. For, Fanny died the next day, and heartbroken over his lose Henry sank into a deep depression which lasted until his death on March 24, 1882.

Some people believe that poets have the gift of rhyme and rhythm given to them at birth, but that is not always true, and Henry found that out early on in life. At the age of 13, Henry published the poem, “The Battle of Lovell’s Pond”, in the Portland Gazette. Henry simply signed the poem as “Henry”, and not telling anyone, other than his sister Anne, of his accomplishment, Henry waited to see their response. He became rather proud of his poem, but his pride soon disappeared when he overheard a friend’s father saying to another friend about how terrible the poem was. This news devastated Henry, yet he refused to give up, and continued to write poems. Had Henry refused to write poems after his first failure the world would never have had his poems and legacy. Henry took each failure as an opportunity to grow and reach.

Henry’s most famous works consist of “Evangeline”, “Paul Revere’s Ride”, “The Song of Hiawatha” and “The Courtship of Miles Standish”. Each of these poems is based on either a fictional or true historical character. Henry did receive one award during his lifetime, an honorary doctorate of Laws in 1859 given to him by Harvard, where he had been given the position of Smith Professorship of Modern Languages years before. Not only did Henry write poetry, he also wrote approximately eleven novels, as well as a few plays. He also translated popular literary works such as, “Coplas de Don Jorge Manrique”, a translation from the Spanish in 1833, and, “Dante's Divine Comedy”, which he translated in 1867. Henry toward the end of his life began translating the poems of Michelangelo, but he did not consider it finished enough to become published. Yet in 1883 a year after his death, it became published. Scholars consider this work a type of autobiography of Henry, portraying his eminent death, as did Michelangelo in his poems.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, has become one of America’s most loved and known poet. After his death, Henry became the first non-British poet to have his bust placed, in Westminster Abby’s Poet’s Corner, in commemoration of his poetical works and life. And still up into the twenty-first century he remains the only American poet embodied as a bust. His personality according to his brother, Samuel Longfellow, was, “a gentle, placid, poetic soul”(Wikipedia) and this image continues to live on. Henry’s works influenced the founding American culture during his lifetime and for sometime after his death. Unfortunately, Henry’s popularity dwindled, as the century gave rise to famous poets such as, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Edwin Arlington Robinson. Yet, during the twenty-first century, Henry’s works have become increasingly popular, and different societies have formed commemorating his legacy. Without Henry’s life, the world would have never experienced the magic that he worked with his poems.


"Henry Wadsworth Longfellow."Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009. 03 March 2009.


"Henry Wadsworth Longfellow." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.03 March 2009.
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"Henry Wadsworth Longfellow." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 22 July 2004, UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 03 March 2009.


Stewart, Dawn L. “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Most Popular Poet of the Nineteenth Century.” 2001. 03 March 2009.


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