Teacher (Professorship) of Modern Languages
Europe (France, Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Spain)
1807: born in Portland, Maine
1825: graduated fourth out of thirty-eight from Bowdoin College
1826-1829: He lived in Europe (France, Germany, Italy, and Spain)
and studied languages in preparation for his work at Bowdoin, where he
would soon hold one of the few "professorships of modern languages" in
the country (Parker 628).
1829-1835: professor of Modern Languages at Bowdoin
1831: married Mary Storer Potter
1835: He accepted a position at Harvard as Professorship of Modern
Languages and Belles-Lettres. He prepared for Harvard by studying
in Scandinavia and Germany during this year and into 1836. Outre-Mer
was also published and his first wife Mary Longfellow died in Rotterdam.
1839: Hyperion and Voices of the Night
1841: Ballads and Other Poems and The Children of the Lord's
Supper (translated from Tegner)
1842: Poems on Slavery, spent many months in Germany at Marienberg
on the Rhine (loved the water) where he formed a lasting friendship with
the German poet, Ferdinand Freiligrath.
1843: Married Francis Elizabeth (Fanny) Appleton and received as
a wedding present the mansion in Cambridge, Craigie House. Enjoyed
an "idyllic" and "elegant" life (Parker 629). Published The Spanish
1847: Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie
1849: Kavanagh: A Tale. His father dies.
1850: The Seaside and the Fireside
1851: The Golden Legend. His mother dies.
1854: Resigned his position as Harvard professorship.
1859: Wrote The Children's Hour.*
1861: Tragic death of Fanny Appleton Longfellow while "sealing up"
her daughter's hair: A spark or hot wax fell on Fanny's summer dress, and
a deadly fire engulfed her. Longfellow was resting in a room next
to where she was and awoke terrified. He attempted to put out the smothering
flames. Yet Fanny was severely burned and died during the night.
Longfellow, too, was also burned in his attempts to save his wife.
He began to live a "somewhat secluded life" (Scudder xiii). He translated
Dante's Divine Comedy.
1868-1869: Returned to Europe for his fourth and last time with members
of his family. While in Europe he received many academic honors,
including honorary doctoral degree from Cambridge and Oxford.
1880: His seventy-fifth birthday, celebrated throughout the nation.
1882: In the Harbor. Died in Cambridge on the twenty-fourth
1884: His bust was uncovered at Westminster Abbey on Poets' Corner.
Issues and themes
As a boy, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew he wanted to become a poet.
The beautiful scenery of the coastal city left an impact on young Longfellow.
He was the second of eight children in his family, and second to his happiness
at home was the nature of Portland that surrounded him. As Edward
Hirsh described in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The nearby
woods and the northward sweep of primeval forest beyond them; the color
and bustle of the harbor; above all, the restless Atlantic with its changing
moods--these were to haunt Longfellow's imagination throughout his life
and to give much of his poetry its dominant imagery" (6). Portland,
Maine, inspired Longfellow's desire to see more of the world through its
metropolitan life, yet at the same time the waterfront served as the quiet
escape for meditation (Williams 28). Living in Portland he witnessed
many memorable historical events, such as in 1813 the seafight between
the British and the Americans. In 1824 the Marquis de Lafayette visited
Portalnd. As Cecil B. Williams stated, it is easy to believe that
"much of his (Longfellow's) facility for verse rhythms came to him through
his responsive listening to the lapping of the waves and to the sighing
of the wind in lofty pines nearby" (29). Edward Hirsh agreed as he
wrote: "The sea is Longfellow's deepest and most inclusive symbol. . .
it is the restless mystery of existence. . ." (26). Longfellow loved
Portland and absorbed all that he could; he took nothing for granted and,
from the images he gathered and lessons he learned, he published beautiful
poems enabling the rest of the world to share in these indescribable visions.
After he graduated from college, Longfellow's yearning to be a poet had
intensified into a "burning ambition" (Williams 129). Other than
his dedicated desire to be a poet, he possessed many great qualifications.
As a boy, he was always conscientious, industrious, persevering, and prompt,
and every task he engaged in received his full and best effort. At
the same time he loved to play like all little boys do. As he grew
and began to write more and more poetry, "he was equipped to become a first-rate
poet" (Williams 129). Longfellow was very careful, skillful, and
sensitive in his use of language. Language that he chose was "simple
and economical, natural in movement, emotionally exact in its use of words
and phrases, and restrained in statement" (Hirsh 31). He is noted
for the way in which his language takes on its own life, charged with meaning
from the ever-occurring situations of life. According to Williams,
Longfellow, unlike other poets, did not depend on connotations or overtones
from within the poem to create these lively verses; rather, he created
illusions of events and experiences of life that generally everyone can
relate to. He goes on to address that a significant supply of knowledge
about Longfellow and his life are essential to fully understand the meaning
of his works. His "genuine poetic imagination" had been steadfastly
building in credibility from all his life experiences (129). Longfellow
possessed an outstanding ear for rhyme and meter, and his knowledge of
different "prosodic forms" allowed him to be 'choosey' when creating his
poems (Williams 129). His technical endowment was considered
much better than average. "If his worst fault is that he made poetry
seem so easy to write that anyone could do it, his greatest virtue is that
he made poetry seem worth reading and worth writing" (Parker 628).
Longfellow went to college at Bowdoin and became a professor of modern
languages. He spent many years in Europe mastering many different
languages. When he returned, he was offered and quickly accepted
a position to teach at Harvard. The position required more studying,
and he returned to Europe again. He enjoyed traveling, and his trip
in 1835 brought him to meet his future second wife, Fanny Appleton, the
Boston heiress. They received the Craigie House in Cambridge as a
wedding gift from her father . Longfellow had everything he could
have wanted; his "life was idyllic" (Parker 629). Longfellow and Fanny
had five children: Charles, Ernest, Alice, Edith, and Annie Allegra.
He was very tender, devotional, and loving toward his children, and "The
Children's Hour" is one of the poems Longfellow wrote depicting himself
as their father, a poet. All his friendships were lifelong.
During his middle years Longfellow was "less successfully challenged; and
just materially, thanks to his literary rewards and his wife's fortune,
his life was as easy and as free from pinch as that of any American writer
has ever been (Arvin 133).
On July 9, 1861, while Longfellow was resting in his study, something happened
just seconds away in the room next door that would affect his life forever.
His beloved wife was sealing up their daughter's hair when either a drop
of hot wax or a spark sprang into her lap and set her summer dress aflame.
Longfellow was awoken as Fanny ran to him, and he frantically attempted
to smother the flames. Fanny was severely burned and passed away
that night. Longfellow also was badly burned yet not to the extreme
that his wife was. He was unable to shave his face anymore as a result
of the scars left by the burning flames; this is where the well-pictured
"bearded Longfellow" (white Longfellow) was created (Hirsh 12). For
months, Longfellow lived his life in constant grief. Newton Arvin
in his Longfellow. . .His Life and Work stated: "His mind wandered,
and he feared that he would go mad." Longfellow was deeply depressed
and never spoke freely of his loss to anyone. He does, however, refer
to it directly in only one of his poems, "The Cross of Snow"
(Hirsh 12-13). Edward Hirsh wrote that Longfellow forced himself
to "resume writing as an escape from his grief" (13). It was during
this time that he accomplished some of his most successful works.
Yet the transformation from happy spirited and peaceful poems to
dark, mysterious, and gloomy work can be easily recognized. "The
Rainy Day" is one of his best-known poems written after Fanny's
death. In the poem, Longfellow compares his life to that of a rainy
day being "cold, and dark, and dreary" (Williams 133). After
many sad poems, Longfellow took his last journey to Europe from 1868-1869.
This trip was "almost royal progress, with honorary degrees conferred by
the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. . . cheers of the undergraduates.
. . reception by Queen Victoria. . . . Victor Hugo saluted Longfellow as
a man who brought honor to America. . . he was clearly the uncrowned poet
laureate " (Hirsh 14).
The Children's Hour
Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.
I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.
From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.
A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.
A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!
They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.
They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!
Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!
I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.
And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!
Composed in 1863
Slightly irregular trochaic
trimeter with many extra unstressed syllables
a-b-c-b, d-e-f-e, g-h-i-h, . . . rhyme scheme
|ln. 6: "Patter of little feet"
||imagery- creates a vision for the reader, actually hearing feet
|ln 18: "A sudden raid from the hall stair"
|ln 20: "They enter my castle wall"
||metaphor- refers to his study
|ln 25-29 "devour. . . entwine. . .banditti. . ."
||conceit- their love is like an attack
|ln 29: "Do you think, O bule-eyed banditti,"
||vocative- addresses his children
|ln 31: "Such an old mustache as I am"
||synecdoche- represents himself and his age
|lns 33-40 "have you fast. . .not let you depart. . .tower of my heart.
. . keep you forever. . ."
||conceit- continues with the idea of being raided, as he maneuvers
a counter-attack of his love.
"The Children's Hour" is a very touching and heart-warming poem.
Longfellow's persona is much like Longfellow himself. The three
children mentioned in lines 11 and 12 are the names of Longfellow's daughters.
The poem describes how the father and poet reserves time each day to spend
with his children (lines 1-4). He describes in an exciting way his
children sneaking up on him, ready to play. He uses vivid detail,
from their "little feet" (ln. 6), their whispers (ln. 13), their "merry
eyes" (ln.14), to their attack of love and affection. Longfellow
creates a conceit by comparing his children's and his love to a raid of
affection. He is bombarded with hugs and kisses (ln. 25-26).
The persona plans and executes a counterattack. It is not an attack
of harsh words nor demands to be left alone; rather, he captures the children
in the tower of his heart. In his heart they will remain safe and
loved forever. He vows to love them for eternity, "forever and a
day," until his death, when the "walls shall crumble to ruin" (ln. 37-40).
Laureate- a poet granted by the British sovereign
to a lifetime position as chief poet of the kingdom; a poet acclaimed as
the most excellent; honored for excellence" (Dict...1012).
Turret- Small ornamented tower or tower-shaped
projection on a building (Dict...1385). Return
Banditti- (Bandit) a robber, outlaw, gangster
Written by Melissa Rich, student, University of North Carolina at Pembroke
Arvin, Newton. Longfellow: His Life and Work.
Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962. PS 2281. A6.
Hirsh, Edward. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Minneapolis:
Jones Press, Inc., 1964. PS 2281. H55.
Parker, Hershel. The Norton Anthology of American Literature,
American Literature 1820-1865. New York: W.W.Norton &
Scudder, Horace E., Longfellow's Complete Poems. New
York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922. PS 2250. F22.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: His Poetry
and Prose. New York: The Ungar Publishing Company, 1986.
PS 2288. W27 1986.
Williams, Cecil B. Longfellow. Boston: Twayne
Publishers, 1964. PS 2281. W47.
Edited by Mark