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Paradise Pisces

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Poet
1807-1882

Paradise Pisces
Of all the suns of the New England morning, Longfellow was the largest in his golden sweetness.   --Van Wyck Brooks

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was America's first professional poet. So successful was Longfellow at earning a living by writing that he was able to resign, at age 47, from his teaching job at Harvard.

Longfellow was praised and honored, in America and in Europe during his lifetime. He was the first American poet to have his bust located at the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

In the 20th Century Longfellow's reputation declined. The reason for this, according to the editors of the Columbia Encyclopedia (6th Edition) is because "many critics have viewed harshly his simple, sentimental, often moralizing verse."

Indeed, Edgar Allan Poe, a Longfellow contemporary, found the Professor too moralistic and didactic.

Much as we admire the genius of Mr. Longfellow, we are fully sensible of his many errors of affectation and imitation. His artistical skill is great and his ideality high. But his conception of the aims of poesy is all wrong, and this we shall prove at some future day- to our own satisfaction, at least. His didactics are all out of place. He has written brilliant poems- by accident; that is to say when permitting his genius to get the better of his conventional habit of thinking- a habit deduced from German study. We do not mean to say that a didactic moral may not be well made the under-current of a poetical thesis; but that it can never be well put so obtrusively forth, as in the majority of his compositions. (E.A. Poe: Reference)

Longfellow never embraced nor was embraced by any avant-garde, here or elsewhere. Longfellow was a conventional straight arrow. As one commentator wrote, :

[He] never broke the law, never got drunk, never discharged a firearm nor socked anybody in the jaw in anger, never played cards for money nor speculated on the stock market, never betrayed a friend nor made a pass at another man's wife. (John Derbyshire: Reference)

Oscar Wilde quipped that Longfellow was a great poet "only for those who do not read poetry."

The reading public prefers the less sober, more pathological Jack Kerouac, another New England writer, active nearly seventy years after Longfellow's death. Kerouac's novel On the Road ranks 639 at Amazon.Com's bookselling website. Longfellow's most popular poem, the narrative "Hiawatha" ranks 81,626. Kerouac's book of poems, Mexico City Blues ranks 77,411 while Longfellow's Selected Poems ranks 232,457. There are nearly a dozen biographies of Kerouac, who died in 1969. A recent biography by Ellis Amburn called Subterranean Kerouac ranks 72,895 at Amazon. A Longfellow biography written by Longfellow's brother, Samuel, has a sales rank of 2,067,204.

Why did the most popular American poet of the 19th century fall from grace in the 20th? Longfellow's intrinsic goal was to create an American mythology, modeled on the Ancient Greeks and Romans. As the Industrial Revolution ploughed the fields asunder, Longfellow gazed in the wrong direction. His appeal was to the past and to tradition. A relatively young nation was hungry and impatient for tradition.

Longfellow was born in 1807 in Portland, a seaport center in what was then still part of Massachusetts. A descendant of the pilgrims, Longfellow was born into a prosperous, happy and socially prominent family. His father, Stephen, had hoped Henry would follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. Henry's interest in and success at translating the Roman writer Horace at Bowdoin College (Nathaniel Hawthorne was a classmate), led him to pursue a more literary career when the college offered him a job teaching modern languages.

After graduating from college and in preparation for his new academic responsibilities, Longfellow journeyed to Europe for nearly three years returning to Bowdoin in 1829. He married Mary Storer Potter in 1831 and together they traveled to Europe in 1835. During this second trip across the lake Longfellow studied Swedish, Danish, Finnish and Dutch literature and became influenced by the German Romantic Movement. Tragically, his wife died in Rotterdam from complications associated with a miscarriage. Longfellow's poem "Footsteps of Angels" is about her.

In 1837 Longfellow left Bowdoin and took a job teaching at Harvard in Cambridge, near Boston. In 1839 his first poetry collection Voices in the Night was published. Also published was the prose romance Hyperion. In 1840 Longfellow published his five-act drama The Spanish Student. Commenting on this work, Poe snorts,

Upon the whole, we regret that Professor Longfellow has written this work, and feel especially vexed that he has committed himself by its republication. Only when regarded as a mere poem can it be said to have merit of any kind. For in fact it is only when we separate the poem from the drama that the passages we have commended as beautiful can be understood to have beauty. We are not too sure, indeed, that a "dramatic poem" is not a flat contradiction in terms. At all events a man of true genius (and such Mr. L. unquestionably is) has no business with these hybrid and paradoxical compositions. Let a poem be a poem only, let a play be a play and nothing more. As for "The Spanish Student," its thesis is unoriginal; its incidents are antique; its plot is no plot; its characters have no character, in short, it is a little better than a play upon words to style it "A Play" at all. (E. A. Poe: Reference).

In 1842, Longfellow takes his third trip to Europe. Soon after this he marries his second wife, Frances Appleton. Evangeline is published in 1847. Longfellow begins The Song of Hiawatha in 1853, quits his job at Harvard to write full time in 1854 and publishes to great acclaim Hiawatha in 1855. The Courtship of Miles Standish is published in 1858. In 1861, tragedy strikes the second Mrs. Longellow when she suddenly died from burns she received when her clothes go up in flames because of errant wax drippings. Mrs. Longfellow and her daughters were using hot wax to seal hair clippings in envelopes.

Tales of a Wayside Inn appeared in 1863. It included the popular "Paul Revere's Ride." Longfellow worked on a translation of Dante's Divine Comedy (1867) and in 1868, accompanied by his three daughters, he made his fourth and final visit to Europe. In 1872 he published Christus- A Mystery.

Longfellow's final years were filled with honors. He received honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Great Britain's Queen Victoria invited him to Windsor Castle. He was also selected to be a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and of the Spanish Academy.

There are at least three statues or busts of Longfellow in the United States: one in Portland, Maine, another in Cambridge, Massachusetts and a third in Washington, D.C.

Longfellow joined the Cosmic Baseball Association when the Paradise Pisces drafted him during the Rookie Draft of February 11, 1999.

This Cosmic Player Plate honors the United States' first professional poet.


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Paul Revere's Ride (1863)

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.





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  • Drafted by Paradise Pisces, 2nd Round of the Rookie Draft (2/11/1999)





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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Season 2002 Cosmic Player Plate
URL: http://www.cosmicbaseball.com/longfellow02.html
Published: March 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002 by the Cosmic Baseball Association
email: editor@cosmicbaseball.com

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