Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Poems and Other Writings
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The mission of The Library of America is to rescue out-of-print American literature from oblivion. The rescue missions began in 1979 when some scholars and critics observed that many fine literary works were out of print, and few copies could be found.
Concerned that the loss of important literary texts would deprive Americans of a vital part of their heritage, the founders of The Library determined to rectify the situation.
With seed money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation, The Library was formed, and the first volumes appeared in 1982.
Publishing Twice a Year
The Library publishes volumes twice each year, and for the year 2000, one of their publications was Longfellow: Poems and Other Writings, edited by poet J. D. McClatchy.
The black dust-cover volume is a handsome book with a ribbon bookmark and a whopping 854 pages, including a chronology of the poet's life, notes on the texts, notes, and an index of titles and first lines.
McClatchy has selected a wide variety of the poet's works, such as poems from The Voices of the Night, Ballads and Other Poems, and Poems on Slavery. The long poems, Evangeline and The Song of Hiawatha, are offered in their entirety.
Interpretive Reading of "A Psalm of Life"
Longfellow Very Popular and Influential
As the dust cover description informs readers, Longfellow's poetry was enormously popular and influential in his own lifetime. Today, most readers have heard his quotations so often that they have become "part of the culture.”
A favorite Longfellow poems is "A Psalm of Life," which contains the following stanza:
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal:
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Readers, of course, recognize the line, "Into each life some rain must fall.” They will find that line in his poem called "The Rainy Day.” No doubt it is this Longfellow poem that helped spread the use of "rain" as a metaphor for the melancholy times in our lives.
Reading of "The Slave's Dream"
Longfellow the Scholar
Longfellow was a careful scholar, and his poems reflect an intuition that allowed him to see into the heart and soul of his subject. His "The Slave's Dream" reveals his knowledge of Africa, as well as the aspirations of a dying slave. After illuminating the slave's dream of being king in his Native Land, the speaker of the poem reveals the slave's soul has departed its body:
He did not feel the driver's whip,
Nor the burning heat of day;
For Death had illumined the Land of Sleep,
And his lifeless body lay
A worn-out fetter, that the soul
Had broken and thrown away!
Longfellow the Translator
This volume includes some samples of Longfellow's translations. He translated Dante's The Divine Comedy, and this volume offers "The Celestial Pilot," "Terrestrial Paradise," and "Beatrice" from the Purgatorio.
Other translations include "The Good Shepherd" by Lope de Vega, "Santa Teresa's Book-Mark" by Saint Teresa of Ávila, "The Sea Hath Its Pearls" by Heinrich Heine, and several selections by Michelangelo. McClatchy says that Longfellow was "fluent in many languages," and these selections attest to that fact.
Longfellow the Novelist
Not only poems and other verse forms are selected, but also the novel, Kavanaugh: A Tale, has been rescued for future generations.
This novel was recommended by Ralph Waldo Emerson for its contribution to the development of the American novel. The opening paragraph of this important novel is worth quotation in its entirety:
Great men stand like solitary towers in the city of God, and secret passages running deep beneath external nature give their thoughts intercourse with higher intelligences, which strengthens and consoles them and of which the laborers on the surface do not even dream!
Longfellow the Essayist
Longfellow, like Emerson, was concerned with the creation of a distinctly American literary tradition, and McClatchy has included three essays that reflect that concern: "The Literary Spirit of Our Country," "Table Talk," and "Address on the Death of Washington Irving."
Continuing the Rescue Effort
The Library of America continues to rescue great literary works, preserving them in handsome volumes that are just the right size for easy reading. Longfellow: Poems and Other Writings is a useful and welcome addition to literature lovers' bookshelves.
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes