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About this poet

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 32, 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 18 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 Dantes 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 58. His most important work was finished, but his fame kept growing. In London alone, 24 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."

Frank Beck contributed to the writing and research of this profile of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Aftermath (1873)
Ballads and Other Poems (1841)
Christus: A Mystery (1872)
Evangeline (1847)
Flower-de-Luce (1867)
Household Poems (1863)
Keramos and Other Poems (1878)
Poems on Slavery (1842)
Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863)
The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems (1845)
The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858)
The Golden Legend (1851)
The Masque of Pandora and Other Poems (1875)
The Seaside and Fireside (1849)
The Song of Hiawatha (1855)
Three Books of Song (1872)
Ultima Thule (1880)
Voices of the Night (1839)

Prose

The New England Tragedies (1868)

Drama

The Spanish Student (1843)

Essays

Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimmage Beyond the Sea (1835)

Fiction

Hyperion: A Romance (1839)
Kavanagh: A Tale (1849)

Poetry in Translation

The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (1867)

My Lost Youth

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 - 1882
Often I think of the beautiful town  
  That is seated by the sea;  
Often in thought go up and down  
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,  
  And my youth comes back to me.           
    And a verse of a Lapland song  
    Is haunting my memory still  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,            
  And catch, in sudden gleams,  
The sheen of the far-surrounding seas,  
And islands that were the Hesperides  
  Of all my boyish dreams.  
    And the burden of that old song,            
    It murmurs and whispers still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
I remember the black wharves and the slips,  
  And the sea-tides tossing free;            
And the Spanish sailors with bearded lips,  
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,  
  And the magic of the sea.  
    And the voice of that wayward song  
    Is singing and saying still:            
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
I remember the bulwarks by the shore,  
  And the fort upon the hill;  
The sunrise gun, with its hollow roar,            
The drum-beat repeated o'er and o'er,  
  And the bugle wild and shrill.  
    And the music of that old song  
    Throbs in my memory still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,            
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
I remember the sea-fight far away,  
  How it thundered o'er the tide!  
And the dead captains, as they lay  
In their graves, o'erlooking the tranquil bay            
  Where they in battle died.  
    And the sound of that mournful song  
    Goes through me with a thrill:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'            
  
I can see the breezy dome of groves,  
  The shadows of Deering's Woods;  
And the friendship old and the early loves  
Come back with a Sabbath sound, as of doves  
  In quiet neighborhoods.            
    And the verse of that sweet old song,  
    It flutters and murmurs still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
I remember the gleams and glooms that dart            
  Across the school-boy's brain;  
The song and the silence in the heart,  
That in part are prophecies, and in part  
  Are longings wild and vain.  
    And the voice of that fitful song            
    Sings on, and is never still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
There are things of which I may not speak;  
  There are dreams that cannot die;            
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,  
And bring a pallor into the cheek,  
  And a mist before the eye.  
    And the words of that fatal song  
    Come over me like a chill:            
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
Strange to me now are the forms I meet  
  When I visit the dear old town;  
But the native air is pure and sweet,            
And the trees that o'ershadow each well-known street,  
  As they balance up and down,  
    Are singing the beautiful song,  
    Are sighing and whispering still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,            
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
And Deering's Woods are fresh and fair,  
  And with joy that is almost pain  
My heart goes back to wander there,  
And among the dreams of the days that were,            
  I find my lost youth again.  
    And the strange and beautiful song,  
    The groves are repeating it still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the "Fireside Poets," wrote lyrical poems about history, mythology, and legend that were popular and widely translated, making him the most famous American of his day. 

by this poet

poem
Out of the bosom of the Air,
    Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
    Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
      Silent, and soft, and slow
      Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
    Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled
poem

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
   "Life is but an empty dream!"
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
   And things are not what they seem.
   
Life is real! Life is earnest!
   And the grave is not its goal;
"Dust thou art, to dust
poem
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