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Switzerland. These books were in prose, but late in the same year as the last, Longfellow published also "Voices of the Night," a volume of poems, partly made up of translations and partly of his own verses. More characteristic of the poet, how—as though he were but slowly discovering his real power, -were "Ballads and Other Poems" (1841), and "The Belfry of Bruges (1845), which contain some of his best known shorter poems. In 1847 came "Evangeline” (see p. 9); in 1849 "Kavanagh," a novel; and in 1850 another collection of poems, called "The Seaside and the Fireside."
In 1854 he resigned his professorship at Harvard to devote himself wholly to literature. He was now living with his wife' and four children in the well-known Craigie House in Cambridge, and here he lived till his death, gradually taking the position of chief and best loved poet of America. He had sorrows and griefs, as must every one, some very bitter; his wife died under very painful circumstances. For the most part, however, he lived calmly and happily until his death, March 24, 1882. Following up his interest in American subjects, he published in 1855 "Hiawatha,' a poem of Indian legend; in 1857, "The Courtship of Miles Standish " ; in 1863 came Tales of a Wayside Inn"; in 1872, "Christus"; in the last ten years of his life,
The Hanging of the Crane" (1874), "The Masque of Pandora " (1875), "Kéramos (1878), "Ultima Thule " (1880). We must note also his translation of Dante's "Divine Comedy," which appeared in 1867, exhibiting his power not only as a poet but as a scholar.
b. Poetic Character.
We may easily learn what were the main events in the life of Longfellow, where he lived, what was his work, what he wrote. But we must always remember that with a poet these things are only of minor importance. We wish to learn them that we may not be ignorant of the life of one we respect and admire; we have about Longfellow's life the same curiosity that we have about the lives of any of our friends. We like to know what they are
doing, how they are living. But with a friend, though we are interested in the record of his goings and comings, of the places
1 His second wife. His first wife had died during his second journey abroad.
where he has lived, and of the work that he has done, we never make the mistake of thinking that such a record is our friend.
So with a poet, only to a greater degree. All sorts of things about a poet interest us. We like to know how he looked, what sort of house he lived in, what he said and did, and all these things are good as finishing touches. The interest in them is natural, if we love the work of the poet. But they should never seem to us very important and they should never obscure from us the real thing the poet has for us.
Now what is it that Longfellow has for us? What has any poet for us? What is a poet?
A poet is an artist who expresses himself in words, in poetry, in a particular way. But, as an artist, he is a soul of the same kind as the painter, the sculptor, the musician. An artist is a man who discovers the beauty of the world; it may have been hidden from the ordinary eye until he came, but just because it is beauty, we know it and love it when he shows it to us.
If then a poet is such a man, if he has so much for us, if he is one who can show us Beauty in this world of ours, which we are so used to that we too often hurry through it without thinking of it as anything more than a railroad track on which to reach Money, Success, Honor; if he can do this for us, how foolish to bother ourselves about minor matters, except as all minor matters are of interest to us concerning anyone whom we love and honor.
Anyone whom we love and honor, I say—for that is what a poet should be to us; he should be a friend to us, an older and wiser friend, of nobler and finer nature than our own, but one who will gladly, willingly, give us of his best.
So then of Longfellow especially, what is it that he has given us? What can we say of his poetry?
We shall think rightly of Longfellow's poetry if we remember what it was to the American people of his time. Longfellow served to awaken and kindle the taste and feeling of the American people for what was poetic and beautiful. Not that no one in America had enjoyed poetry and beauty before Longfellow,—far from that. But no one had expressed it in America as he expressed it; we had no great poets before Longfellow. Indeed, as a people, we had very little poetic appreciation. Longfellow was a sort of Apostle. He showed us much. He was a Discoverer in
our behalf; a Discoverer, as I have said, of the Beautiful in life. So he was a great educator; he attuned the mind of our people to the beautiful and the ideal.
Something of the same sort is Longfellow apt to be to every one of us. We all read Longfellow early in life, often in school, before we have read much else, before we have seen much of this world that the poets write of. It is an impressionable age. Longfellow moulds our taste. He delights us, and it is from him that we learn a kind of delight different from the ordinary pleasures of life. He is simple and direct. We read his beautiful verse without difficulty; it seems natural, and we become habituated to poetic thought and to poetic form. Later in life, if we desire, we may pass from his exquisite and gracious mood to poets of a more profound or a more passionate nature. But Longfellow never loses his place with us. He is the guide who first led us to the enchanted country, the interpreter who first made us understand its language.
At first Longfellow was fascinated by the beauty and romance of the Old World, nor did this interest ever leave him. He read much in old-world literature and travelled in foreign countries. Their old legends and traditions were a delight to him. Chronicles, romances, tales, these had always the strongest attraction for Longfellow, and many are the poems inspired by his love of far and foreign lands. Translations from foreign languages, poems of foreign places, and, most of all, romantic tales from oldworld history or traditions-these were at first the favorite themes for Longfellow's poetry. How many such poems are familiar to you,-"The Legend Beautiful," "Sandalphon,' "King Robert of Sicily," "King Olaf."
There is one among them which is particularly interesting, The Skeleton in Armor." You know that there was found1 an actual skeleton clad in the rusty remains of armor. To Longfellow, full of the romance of the North, the discovery called up at once the picture of the sea robber; his imagination created the bride for whom had been built the bower which, as he would have it, still stands looking seaward in the city of Newport.
The poet's imagination reaches out from the Old World to the
1 At Fall River, Mass.
New, and connects them in his Romance. Not only the romance of the Old World, but of the New, is to be his theme.' This poem, joining the two, stands significantly among his earlier works and brings us to another and a far more important division of his work.
He introduces us to the romance of foreign lands and olden times. But have we not always known that distant lands were strange lands and that olden times were good times? We need little persuasion to find beauty and delight and charm in the legend of monkish tradition, in the lay of the singer of long ago, or in quaint old German towns or fascinating Spanish cities. All this Longfellow gives us; but more important than this, he discovers to us the poetry in our own land, and even in our own time. A true American, he could not, as a true poet, be content with forever imagining and fancying the romance and charm of life in foreign lands; as an American, the history of his own country called him.
It was in the year 1847 that "Evangeline" was written. Longfellow heard the story from Mr. Conolly, a friend of Hawthorne's, when the three were dining together in Cambridge. Mr. Conolly had suggested it to Hawthorne as the subject for a story, but Hawthorne did not feel moved to write anything. On Longfellow, however, the tale made a deep impression, and he asked his friend2 if he had meant to write anything on it. Hawthorne said "No," and Longfellow took the idea himself.
If he ever wondered whether a simple story, chosen from American history, could be as popular as his tales from foreign romance, his doubts were at once laid at rest. There is no other one of Longfellow's poems, no tale of Germany, Spain, or the far North, that has achieved the fame of this idyll; no story of monk, or knight, or lady, that touches us as does this of the simple farmer's girl. It is said that one sure note of the beautiful in art is that the image rises before us again and again, when we no longer
1 May 3, 1838, some time before the poem appeared, he wrote in his diary, "I have been looking at the old Northern Sagas, and thinking of a series of ballads or a romantic poem on the deeds of the first bold viking who crossed to this western world,
with storm-spirits and devil-machinery under water. New England ballads I have long thought of. This seems to be an introduction."
2 Longfellow and Hawthorne had been in the same class at Bowdoin.
have the work with us, and always with satisfaction and delight. If that be so, how beautiful is " Evangeline"! For we rarely think of Longfellow without the thought coming to our mind of that pathetic, almost tragic, figure of the wanderer, first plunged in grief-then patient-then resigned.
It is curious to think of Hawthorne and Longfellow together; the contrast between the two does much to show us more clearly what was the character of our great poet. As we read Hawthorne, we seem to be leading a brooding and secluded life, a life that permits a little intense observation of the world outside, but which takes in its impressions and submits them to some mysterious alchemy whereby all becomes dun-colored and gray, though here and there shot with some rich dash of magnificence—a life where we dimly perceive unerring and inevitable causes, where the springs of action are vaguely apparent, sometimes clearer, sometimes less clear. But we live as in an old library in a vast and gloomy house in the midst of an old, neglected garden, shut away from the street by rows of pine-trees.
But Longfellow-Longfellow is very different. As we read the volume of his verse, we seem to be living a sweet and gracious life, each day bringing with it some thought for poetic meditation and joy. One day it is a recollection of olden time beyond the sea,—of the splendid life at Bruges, of the quaint old town of Nuremberg; sometimes it is something here at home, the summer's rain that quickens our thought, or the river Charles that flows beyond the fields that lie at the foot of the lawn; sometimes we stand on the Bridge by night and watch the swift-flowing river beneath. Or sometimes it may be that day after day passes in thought of some longer tale, perhaps "Evangeline," or "Hiawatha," while sometimes there comes a more serious thought or a sterner flash of indignation at some tale of wrong. But always our poet's mind has made the thought beautiful: nothing is harsh, discordant, disjointed, disturbing, inharmonious, jangling. It is always melodious, as of some distant song; it is gentle like the winds in the pines of summer; it is grateful like the night after a parching day.