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Life of Henry Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in the little town of Portland in the State of Maine on the Atlantic coast, in the family of a well-to-do lawyer. The family kept alive the memory of the War of Independence and as a boy Longfellow was told about the heroic deeds of his grand father who had been a general in Washington's army, and about his uncle Henry who had been an officer in the US Navy.

The family traditions of heroism played a considerable role in the life of young Longfellow.

At the age of sixteen Henry entered Bowdoin I'boudwinl college, and there he wrote his first verses and stories. In 1826 Henry Longfellow was sent to Europe to study foreign languages. He visited not only Eng­land but also France, Spain, Italy and Germany. In 1829 he returned home and began teaching foreign languages, first at Bowdoin college and then, in 1834, as a professor at Harvard University.

In 1835 Longfellow visited Europe a second time. In 1839 he pub­lished his novel " Hyperion" and a collection of poems " Voices of the Night". In 1841 a new book of poems (" Ballads and Other Poems") saw print. By that time he was well known as an American poet, and his fame steadily spread.

After his third trip to Europe Longfellow published his masterpiece, collection of verses " Poems On Slavery" (1842). Slavery had become the most urgent question of the day. In these verses Longfellow expressed sympathy with the abolitionists and condemned the shameful institution of slavery. But he was by no means a rebel by nature. In everyday life he was a gentle and modest man, an intellectual who spent all his time in the family circle or writing.

Longfellow compiled and translated over the Space of some 30 years a vast anthology called " Poets of Europe". This colossal work of translating poets of different times and different peoples was finished by the end of the seventies when the last of the 31 volumes saw print. Up to the present day this anthology remains one of the best of this kind. Besides this collection of European lyrical poetry Longfellow translated in 1865-1867 Dante's " Divine Comedy". By the end of his life Longfellow had recognition all over the world. Many universities awarded him with honorary degrees, so did the Russian Academy of Sciences of which he became a member. He was also elected to membership by the Spanish, British and French Academies of Sciences. Even when already an old man, Henry Longfellow continued writing. He wrote verses, ballads, dramas, essays and stories. He also lectured on American poetry and Negro and Indian folk-lore. He is the only American poet whose bust occupies a niche in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner.

Longfellow died at the age of 75 when he was at the peak of his fame.


Henry Longfellow knew twelve foreign languages, as well as ancient Greek, Latin, Gothic, Hebrew, old French and old German. He also a profound knowledge of history, philosophy, and history of the arts. His poetic heritage is very large but somewhat uneven and contradictory. His poetic works made Longfellow one of the first American poets of national scope and importance.

In his best poems Longfellow proclaims the ideas of humanism; he declares that man must be proud and strong, that life is full of heroism and courageous struggle, that man has no right to submit to oppression but should fearlessly stand up for his rights.

In his mature years Longfellow created beautiful lyrics about nature.American nature came to life under Longfellow's pen. He was especially skilful in depicting the seasons of the year.

The " Poems on Slavery" were published eighteen years before the Civil War broke out in 1861. Longfellow foretold the coming of a war that would free the Negro slaves at a time when nobody believed it could be possible.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (like his elder contemporary Fenimore Cooper) was a great friend of the Indians. In the fifties he published such remarkable verses as " The Indian Hunter", " The Battle of Lovell's Pond", and " To the Driving Cloud". Even as a student Longfellow began to collect Indian folk-lore. But it was some 30 years after he had graduat­ed from the university that he was able to finally complete his tremendous epic poem " The Song of Hiawatha" — the only epic poem in American literature in which the manner of life and the beliefs of the Indian people are described.

" The Song of Hiawatha" appeared in 1855. It made the name of Long­fellow famous all over the world. During the short space of six months it was reissued 30 times! Many articles were written about the " Song", poets of many countries tried to imitate " Hiawatha"; the poem was tran­slated into many European languages. The Russian translation was made by I. A. Bunin. The originality and novelty of its literary form, the as yet unknown poetic world of Indian folk-lore, the brilliant mastery of; versification surprised everyone and attracted world attention.

In Longfellow's poetry for the first time we find truly poetic descrip­tions of the forests and rivers, prairies, and lakes of America. It should be noted here that literary prose in America was ahead of poetry in this respect. In novels poetical descriptions of American nature and national American characters appeared as early as the twenties of the 19th century.

" The Song of Hiawatha" will always be read as a great American epic. The ideas of peace and brotherhood of all peoples that humanity has longed and fought for since the beginning of human society are beautifully expressed by Longfellow in words uttered by Citche Manito (the great God of the Indians) when he gathered together the Indian nations to teach them to live in peace with each other.


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