Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine. During his lifetime, Longfellow’s poetry enjoyed extraordinary popularity at home and abroad.
Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Village Blacksmith,” External published 1841 in Ballads and Other Poems.
The original draft of this poem is featured in Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years.
“The Village Blacksmith” originally appeared in Knickerbocker magazine in 1840 and served as a standard recitation piece in American schools well into the twentieth century. Longfellow’s longer narrative poems include EvangelineExternal (1847), The Song of Hiawatha External (1855), and The Courtship of Miles Standish External (1858).
Longfellow attended Bowdoin College. A classmate of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Longfellow returned to the college to teach in 1829. From 1836 to 1854, he served as Smith Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard University. At home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Longfellow and his second wife, Frances (Fanny) Appleton, raised six children. In his sentimental portrait of family life, “The Children’s Hour,” first published in the September 1860 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Longfellow immortalized his daughters:
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.
“Paul Revere’s Ride External,” published in Tales of a Wayside Inn External (1863), follows the famous patriot as he rides through the Massachusetts countryside warning of an impending British attack. Even today, the first lines of this poem are familiar:
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
One of few nineteenth-century American poets acclaimed in Europe, Longfellow received honorary degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge. Following his death in 1882, he became the only American commemorated in Westminster Abbey‘s Poet’s Corner.
Although Longfellow’s verse seems conventional now, especially when contrasted with his contemporary Walt Whitman, he was considered a “new poet” in his day. One of the first Americans to use native themes in his poetry, Longfellow holds an important place in American memory.
- Search Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920 on Longfellow to retrieve over twenty photographs of Longfellow’s homes and haunts.
- On April 23, 1903, the newly organized S. Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society performed Scenes from the Song of Hiawatha, a musical adaptation of Longfellow’s poem, at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C. The production program, including the adapted text of the poem, is featured in African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907.
- View the 1897 film Falls of Minnehaha. Available through the collection Inventing Entertainment: The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies, the film captures the “Laughing Waters” of Longfellow’s “Hiawatha.”