Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Biography of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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 thirty-two, 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 eighteen 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 Dante’s 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 fifty-eight. His most important work was finished, but his fame kept growing. In London alone, twenty-four 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.”

Poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  1. Canzone
  2. A Gleam Of Sunshine
  3. A Nameless Grave
  4. A Psalm of Life
  5. A Shadow
  6. A Song Of Savoy
  7. A Summer Day By The Sea
  8. Aftermath
  9. Afternoon In February
  10. Agassiz
  11. An April Day
  12. Autumn
  13. Autumn Within
  14. Autumnal Nightfall
  15. Beleaguered City, The
  16. Belisarius
  17. Birds Of Passage
  18. Blessing The Cornfields
  19. Blind Bartimeus
  20. Boston
  21. Burial Of The Minnisink
  22. Carillon
  23. Chaucer
  24. Children
  25. Christmas Bells
  26. Curfew
  27. Dante
  28. Daylight And Moonlight
  29. Divina Commedia
  30. Drinking Song
  31. Elliot's Oak
  32. Evening Star, The
  33. Excelsior
  34. Fata Morgana
  35. Flowers
  36. Footsteps Of Angels
  37. Garfield
  38. God's-Acre
  39. Haroun Al Raschid
  40. Helen Of Tyre
  41. Hermes Trismegistus
  42. Hiawatha And Mudjekeewis
  43. Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather
  44. Hiawatha's Childhood
  45. Hiawatha's Departure
  46. Hiawatha's Fasting
  47. Hiawatha's Fishing
  48. Hiawatha's Fishing
  49. Hiawatha's Friends
  50. Hiawatha's Lamentation
  51. Hiawatha's Sailing
  52. Hiawatha's Wedding-Feast
  53. Holidays
  54. Hymn For My Brother's Ordination
  55. Hymn to the Night
  56. I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
  57. Inscription On The Shanklin Fountain
  58. It Is Not Always May
  59. Italian Scenery
  60. Jeckoyva
  61. Jugurtha
  62. Keats
  63. Kéramos
  64. King Trisanku
  65. L'Envoi
  66. Light Of Stars, The
  67. Loss And Gain
  68. Maidenhood
  69. Mezzo Cammin
  70. Midnight Mass For The Dying Year
  71. Milton
  72. Moods
  73. Moonlight
  74. Morituri Salutamus: Poem for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Class of 1825 in Bowdoin College
  75. Mr. Finney's Turnip
  76. Musings
  77. My Books
  78. My Lost Youth
  79. Nature
  80. Nuremberg
  81. O Ship Of State
  82. Old St David's At Radnor
  83. Pau-Puk-Keewis
  84. Pegasus in Pound
  85. Picture-Writing
  86. Rain In Summer
  87. Seaweed
  88. Shakespeare
  89. Sir Humphrey Gilbert
  90. Sir Humphrey Gilbert
  91. Sleep
  92. Snow-flakes
  93. Something Left Undone
  94. Song
  95. Sound Of The Sea, The
  96. Spirit Of Poetry, The
  97. Sundown
  98. Sunrise On The Hills
  99. Suspiria
  100. Tegner's Drapa
  101. Thangbrand The Priest
  102. Thanksgiving
  103. The Arrow and the Song
  104. The Arsenal at Springfield
  105. The Belfrey Of Bruges
  106. The Bells of San Blas
  107. The Bridge
  108. The Broken Oar
  109. The Building of the Ship
  110. The Burial Of The Poet
  111. The Challenge Of Thor
  112. The Chamber Over The Gate
  113. The Children's Hour
  114. The Courtship Of Miles Standish
  115. The Cross of Snow
  116. The Day is Done
  117. The Death Of Kwasind
  118. The Demoniac Of Gadara
  119. The Descent Of The Muses
  120. The Evening Star
  121. The Famine
  122. The Fire of Drift-wood
  123. The Four Winds
  124. The Galaxy
  125. The Ghosts
  126. The Goblet Of Life
  127. The Good Part That Shall Not Be Taken Away
  128. The Hanging Of The Crane
  129. The Harvest Moon
  130. The Hunting Of Pau-Puk Keewis
  131. The Indian Hunter
  132. The Jewish Cemetery at Newport
  133. The Ladder of St. Augustine
  134. The Landlord's Tale. Paul Revere's Ride
  135. The Lunatic Girl
  136. The Masque Of Pandora
  137. The Meeting
  138. The Norman Baron
  139. The Occultation Of Orion
  140. The Old Bridge At Florence
  141. The Old Clock on the Stairs
  142. The Peace-Pipe
  143. The Poet's Calendar
  144. The Poets
  145. The Psalm Of Life
  146. The Quadroon Girl
  147. The Rainy Day
  148. The Reaper And The Flowers
  149. The Republic
  150. The Revenge Of Rain-In-The-Face
  151. The Sea Diver
  152. The Skeleton in Armor
  153. The Slave In The Dismal Swamp
  154. The Slave's Dream
  155. The Son Of The Evening Star
  156. The Sound Of The Sea
  157. The Three Kings
  158. The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls
  159. The Two Rivers
  160. The Venetian Gondolier
  161. The Village Blacksmith
  162. The White Man's Foot
  163. The White Tzar
  164. The Witnesses
  165. The Wreck of the Hesperus
  166. There was a little girl
  167. Three Friends Of Mine
  168. To A Child
  169. To The Driving Cloud
  170. To The River Charles
  171. To The River Rhone
  172. To Vittoria Colonna. (Sonnet V.)
  173. Ultima Thule: Dedication to G. W. G.
  174. Ultima Thule: The Windmill
  175. Venice
  176. Village Blacksmith, The
  177. Vittoria Colonna
  178. Voices Of The Night
  179. Wapentake
  180. Woods In Winter
  181. Woodstock Park