Longfellow & the fate of modern poetry.Strolling around Disneyland this summer, re-acquainting myself with Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Mister Toad, Simba, and so on, the following reflection occurred to me: that these strange imagined characters were originally (at one slight remove, in Simba's case) the creations of some very bourgeois persons. Barrie, Grahame, Milne, and Kipling were conventional, sober, uxorious ux·o·ri·ous
Excessively submissive or devoted to one's wife.
[From Latin uxrius, from uxor, wife. , well-dressed gentlemen of respectable employment and opinions, yet the fruits of their imaginations have proved far more durable than those of any bohemian counterculture coun·ter·cul·ture
A culture, especially of young people, with values or lifestyles in opposition to those of the established culture.
coun you can name. Not a very original reflection, to be sure, but it is something to be able to reflect at all while heading from Fantasyland fan·ta·sy·land
A place conjured up by the imagination, often populated by bizarre inhabitants: a fictional fantasyland teeming with unicorns and elves. to Adventureland in ninety-degree heat with a first-grader and a preschooler pre·school·er
1. A child who is not old enough to attend kindergarten.
2. A child who is enrolled in a preschool.
Noun 1. in tow.
Some similar thoughts came to mind as I was reading the new selection of Longfellow's works recently published by the Library of America The Library of America (LoA) is a nonprofit publisher of classic American literature. Overview and history
Founded in 1979 with seed money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation, the LoA has published more than 150 volumes by a wide range .(1) Longfellow was as respectable as it is possible for a man to be. Writing and public lecturing apart, his entire paid employment consisted of five-and-a-half years teaching modern languages at Bowdoin and seventeen years teaching the same at Harvard. He had two wives, both of whom he adored, both of whom predeceased him. We know of no other liaisons involving physical intimacy “Caress” redirects here. For other uses, see Caress (disambiguation).
Physical intimacy is informal proximity and/or touching. It can be enjoyed by itself and/or be an expression , and on both internal and external evidence, it is extremely unlikely that any such connections existed. He was raised in a happy family and begat another, was a filial filial /fil·i·al/ (fil´e-al)
1. of or pertaining to a son or daughter.
2. in genetics, of or pertaining to those generations following the initial (parental) generation. son and a loving father. He had only the feeblest interest in politics, and never stood for any office. As best I have been able to determine, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow never broke the law, never got drunk, never discharged a firearm or socked anybody on the jaw in anger, never played at cards for money or speculated on the stock market, never betrayed a friend or made a pass at another man's wife.
Nor is it in the least probable that this outward sobriety was a lid clamped on some raging inner turmoil. I spoke of internal evidence for Longfellow's character--that is, his own writings, letters, recorded talk and private journals. These are plentiful throughout his life, from a letter written at age six to his father to journal entries a few days before his death. There is nothing in them to suggest any quirks of personality more extraordinary than a mild and occasional hypochondria hypochondria (hī'pəkŏn`drēə), in psychology, a disorder characterized by an exaggeration of imagined or negligible physical ailment. . (Longfellow died of peritonitis peritonitis (pĕr'ĭtənī`tĭs), acute or chronic inflammation of the peritoneum, the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and surrounds the internal organs. at age seventy-five, declining from good health to death in just five days.)
It is therefore not very surprising that literary critics in present-day academia, obsessed ob·sess
v. ob·sessed, ob·sess·ing, ob·sess·es
To preoccupy the mind of excessively.
v.intr. as they are with the "transgressive trans·gres·sive
1. Exceeding a limit or boundary, especially of social acceptability.
2. Of or relating to a genre of fiction, filmmaking, or art characterized by graphic depictions of behavior that violates socially " do not find much of interest in Longfellow's life. There is no scholarly English-language biography of the poet in print, nor has there been for decades. A list of materials one might recommend to a non-specialist inquirer into Longfellow's life and work would look very much the same now as it did thirty years ago. At its head I should put Professor Edward Wagenknecht's 1966 sketch, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Portrait of an American Humanist. (For those who are amused by such oddities, I note that the last word in the title is misprinted as "Humorist hu·mor·ist
1. A person with a good sense of humor.
2. A performer or writer of humorous material.
a person who speaks or writes in a humorous way
" in the notes to Mr. Paul Johnson's A History of the American People An American people may be:
As with the life, so with the verse. Drop Longfellow into a literary conversation nowadays and you will get some odd looks. The exchanges that follow will include words and phrases Words and Phrases®
A multivolume set of law books published by West Group containing thousands of judicial definitions of words and phrases, arranged alphabetically, from 1658 to the present. like "mawkish mawk·ish
1. Excessively and objectionably sentimental. See Synonyms at sentimental.
2. Sickening or insipid in taste. ," "shallow," "trite," "mechanical," "unadventurous," "tame, "jingles," "slave to conventional modes and diction," "the innocence of America's literary youth," and so on. When I produced my own CD of readings from American poetry in 1999, I included more pieces from Longfellow than from any other poet. This, a number of people have told me, was a serious error of judgment. "Four poems by Longfellow," scolded one lady indignantly, "and not one from Vachel Lindsay?" A friend who teaches English in an excellent suburban high school tells me that Longfellow is not on the curriculum. So far as the literary authorities of our time are concerned, Longfellow is not merely a dead poet, he is a dead dead poet.
For all that, Longfellow has been a continuous presence in our language since Voices of the Night was published in 1839, and his lines are still familiar today, though many who know them could not tell you who wrote them. "I shot an arrow into the air
"<B>I Shot an Arrow Into the Air</B>" is an episode of the American television anthology series <em>The Twilight Zone</em>. <H2>Details</H2>*Episode number: 15*Season: 1*Production code: 173-3626*Original air date: January 15, 1960*Writer: "; "Under a spreading chestnut tree"; "A banner with the strange device"; "Ships that pass in the night"; "One, if by land, and two, if by sea"; "Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small" No other American poet has so penetrated the general consciousness of the entire English-speaking world. And, whatever our literary clerisy cler·i·sy
Educated people considered as a group; the literati.
[German Klerisei, clergy, from Medieval Latin cl may feel, he is still with us.
Item: My wife and I arrived early one afternoon for our ballroom dancing lesson. Our instructor, a thoughtful, well-educated man of about thirty-five, was attempting to teach some basic steps to a class of girls from the local high school, who seemed more interested in giggling and shrieking. When it was over he came to sit with us and, with obvious relief, watched the schoolgirls leave. As the door closed behind the last of them he turned to us with an expression of mock desperation and recited through clenched clench
tr.v. clenched, clench·ing, clench·es
1. To close tightly: clench one's teeth; clenched my fists in anger.
2. teeth the first stanza of "The Children's Hour See also The Children's Hour (disambiguations)
Children's Hour—at first: "The Children's Hour", from a verse by Longfellow (1)—was the name of the BBC's principal recreational service for children (as distinct from "Broadcasts to ":
Between the dark and the daylight, When night is beginning to lower, Comes a pause in the day's occupations, That is known as the children's hour.
Item: Reviewing a book by Amitai Etzioni Amitai Etzioni (born Werner Falk on 4 January 1929 in Cologne, Germany) is an Israeli-American sociologist, famous for his work on socioeconomics and communitarianism. , guru of the "communitarian com·mu·ni·tar·i·an
A member or supporter of a small cooperative or a collectivist community.
com·mu " movement, for a political magazine a year or so ago, it occurred to me that many of the author's prescriptions depended on our being able to recapture the social habits and attitudes of an earlier time, and that it was unlikely we could do this because, as we say nowadays, the toothpaste is out of the tube. Seeking for an apt way to phrase the thought in context, I recalled some lines from "The Golden Milestone," which served my purpose very well:
We may build more splendid habitations, Fill our rooms with paintings and with sculptures, But we cannot Buy with gold the old associations!
These items bring to mind a word Samuel Longfellow used somewhere in respect of his brother's verse: serviceable. You can bring out Longfellow's lines and use them in all kinds of circumstances. He had a knack for expressing commonplace thoughts very memorably.
It is an interesting question why poets of our own time cannot do this. It may be that we have a very limited requirement for such "serviceable" lines and that the nineteenth century supplied all we need. Much more likely, in my opinion, it is because modern poets are intellectuals, who are expected to have some well-turned ideas about form, system, method, and, of course, politics, and that this precludes them from having commonplace thoughts, or from being willing to express such thoughts in verse.
Longfellow was the very opposite of an intellectual. This might seem an odd thing to say about a man who spoke numerous languages and served on the faculty of Harvard University Harvard University, mainly at Cambridge, Mass., including Harvard College, the oldest American college. Harvard College
Harvard College, originally for men, was founded in 1636 with a grant from the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. for seventeen years, yet it is certainly true. To anyone immersed in the literary culture of the present day, Longfellow's utter lack of interest in criticism-much less "critical theory"! -- or in abstract systems of any kind, must be astounding a·stound
tr.v. a·stound·ed, a·stound·ing, a·stounds
To astonish and bewilder. See Synonyms at surprise.
[From Middle English astoned, past participle of astonen, . "What is the use of writing about books?" he asked in 1850, "excepting so far as to give information to those who cannot get the books themselves?" Oh, dear. Nor was this just writer's pique at negative reviews, which he took in his gentlemanly stride. Of Edgar Allan Poe's often scathing remarks about his work, he said only: "The harshness of his criticisms, I have never attributed to anything but the irritation of a sensitive nature, chafed chafe
v. chafed, chaf·ing, chafes
1. To wear away or irritate by rubbing.
2. To annoy; vex.
3. To warm by rubbing, as with the hands.
v.intr. by some indefinite sense of wrong." (Which also happens to wrap up in one sentence an extraordinary amount of insight into Poe.)
Similarly with religion and politics. Longfellow had the typical middle-class American horror of strong opinions. Though deeply religious, he had no patience with theological doctrine Noun 1. theological doctrine - the doctrine of a religious group
theanthropism - (theology) the doctrine that Jesus was a union of the human and the divine , and probably could not understand it. The author of Poems on Slavery was, says Wagenknecht, antislavery but not abolitionist, when he associated with abolitionists he felt "like Alfred among the Danes." There is an entry in his journal that is pertinent here. On November 27, 1861 he records: "George Sumner and Mr. Bakounin to dinner. Mr. B Mr. B may refer to:
Bakunin, Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin , the familiar of Marx, Proudhon, and Alexander Herzen Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen (Алекса́ндр Ива́нович Ге́рцен) (April 6 O.S. 25 March] 1812 in Moscow — January 21 O.S. , but what Longfellow found interesting was Bakunin's narration of his adventures and escapades, not--or, at any rate, not worth recording --anything he might have said about class struggle or the specter haunting Europe.
Though Longfellow was an extremely intelligent man--he was Bowdoin's Professor of Modern Languages at age twenty-two --as a creator of verse, he was an idiot savant idiot savant
n. pl. idiot savants
A mentally retarded person who exhibits genius in a highly specialized area, such as mathematics. . The stuff just bubbled up out of him unpredictably. He could not explain it and had no real theory of poetic composition. "The Arrow and the Song" was jotted down one Sunday morning Sunday Morning may refer to:
Wreck of the Hesperus are a doom metal band from Ireland, based in Dublin. " was written at one sitting. He could not write vers vers
versed sine d'occasion and usually begged off requests to do so; the elegantly beautiful "Morituri Salutamus" is almost the lone exception. The history of his life as a poet contains strange pauses and spells of sterility; between the ages of nineteen and thirty, usually a poet's prime years, he seems to have produced no verse at all.
The even tenor of Longfellow's life was punctuated by two tragedies: the deaths of his first and second wives. The first of these, awful as it must have seemed at the time (and cold-hearted as it seems to say so, for which I apologize) was the lesser of the two. It occurred in Rotterdam in 1835, while Longfellow was travelling in north Europe to improve his German, prior to taking up the Harvard post. Mary Longfellow suffered a miscarriage and died a few weeks later from a consequent infection. They had been married just over four years. Mary Longfellow was a great beauty, but whether she was the right wife for a man as intensely bookish book·ish
1. Of, relating to, or resembling a book.
2. Fond of books; studious.
3. Relying chiefly on book learning: as Longfellow has been doubted. We cannot know the inner truth of the matter because Longfellow burned her journals after her death, together with love letters the two of them had exchanged. It is possible that Longfellow had found, like Mr. Palmer in Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility is a novel by the English novelist Jane Austen, that was first published in 1811. It was the first of Austen's novels to be published, under the pseudonym "A Lady". , that "through some unaccountable bias in favor of beauty, he was the husband of a very silly woman."
Be that as it may, Longfellow's grief cannot be doubted. He was not incapacitated in·ca·pac·i·tate
tr.v. in·ca·pac·i·tat·ed, in·ca·pac·i·tat·ing, in·ca·pac·i·tates
1. To deprive of strength or ability; disable.
2. To make legally ineligible; disqualify. by it, though, and continued his travels in Germany and Switzerland. In that latter country, just eight months after Mary's death, he met and fell in love with Fanny Appleton, who would eventually, after a long and frustrating courtship, become his second wife. Longfellow was, in fact, capable of a certain detachment from his own emotions, like those of us who can remain perfectly clear-headed as to what is going on around us even when seriously drunk. Travelling through the Tyrol in the weeks following Mary's death, he was overwhelmed with sadness, but not so much so as to blame the mountains. Those gloomy impressions arose, he understood, from "my sick soul." Ever the humanist, Longfellow knew man to be the measure of all things. His firm, placid nature could take its own temperature to within a degree or two.
Mary Longfellow's death was within the scope of afflictions one might reasonably expect to suffer in the days before modern medicine. Grief was appropriate, and in this case sincere, but death was all around, and it was unusual in Longfellow's time for anyone to be long derailed by the death of a loved one. (By coincidence, Longfellow's brother-in-law died of typhus typhus, any of a group of infectious diseases caused by microorganisms classified between bacteria and viruses, known as rickettsias. Typhus diseases are characterized by high fever and an early onset of rash and headache. two weeks before Mary.) A few years ago I took an elderly female relative for a trip back to her home town in the west midlands West Midlands, former metropolitan county, central England. Created in the 1974 local government reorganization, the county embraced the Birmingham conurbation and comprised seven metropolitan districts: Walsall, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Sandwell, Birmingham, Solihull, of England. In her youth this lady had been in love with a boy who had died suddenly from rheumatic fever rheumatic fever (rmăt`ĭk), systemic inflammatory disease, extremely variable in its manifestation, severity, duration, and aftereffects. . As we drove past a small street of old houses, she sat up against the window and said: "Oh! That's where we went to buy black for Jack Morgan." In England in the 1920s, apparently, every small town had a store where you went to "buy black"-- that is, funeral clothes and veils. These were specialty stores, selling nothing else; demand was steady.
The death of Longfellow's second wife was an event of a different order. It might fairly, though again somewhat cruelly, be said that all the misfortune of a normal life was packed into a few moments of July the ninth, 1861. On that day Fanny Longfellow was sitting in the library with her two youngest daughters, ages five and seven, scaling up small envelopes of their curls, which she had just cut off. A match fell on Fanny's light summer dress, which burst into flames. Screaming, Fanny ran into the adjoining study, where her husband was taking a nap. He tried to stifle the flames, using a rug and his own body, but succeeded only after burning himself badly. Fanny died after a night of agony. Longfellow, fifty-four years old, was plunged into an intense grief from which he never truly recovered. It was months before he could even speak of the event, and then only obliquely. At length he took refuge in work, taking up his translation of Dante's Divine Comedy Divine Comedy: see Dante Alighieri.
Dante’s epic poem in three sections: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. [Ital. Lit.: Divine Comedy]
See : Epic , a task he had begun some years before but laid aside.
These two life events, when they had been completely absorbed, produced two of Longfellow's finest poems. Taking the "water cure" at the German spa of Marienberg in August of 1842, his thoughts turned to the fact of his being half-way through the allotted al·lot
tr.v. al·lot·ted, al·lot·ting, al·lots
1. To parcel out; distribute or apportion: allotting land to homesteaders; allot blame.
2. seventy years of life. These meditations brought forth a wonderful sonnet, "Mezzo mez·zo
n. pl. mez·zos
Music moderately; quite: mezzo-forte
pl -zos Cammin," in which is imbedded a single, brief but unmistakeable reference to Mary, dead nearly seven years at this point:
But sorrow, and a care that almost killed, Kept me from what! may accomplish yet.
The grief that followed Fanny's death was much more massive, and took correspondingly longer to work itself through into art. On the eighteenth anniversary of that death in 1879, Longfellow, alone in his chamber, happened to be looking over an illustrated book of western scenery. The book included a picture of a mountain on whose side the snow lies in two long furrows to make the image of a vast cross. The image stayed with him, and when, that night, sleepless, he gazed at Fanny's portrait on the wall, the two things came together in his last, most heartbreaking sonnet, "The Cross of Snow":
and soul more white Never through martyrdom of fire was led To its repose.
(There is a sad little anthology to be made of poems written by men in memory of a dearly loved wife, though perhaps nobody could bear to read it all through. Milton's "Methought me·thought
Past tense of methinks.
Archaic the past tense of methinks I saw my late espoused Saint," leads the field, of course; but Dante Gabriel Dante Gabriel may refer to:
"Mezzo Cammin" and "The Cross of Snow" illustrate the fact that Longfellow, whom we associate mainly with the ballad and narrative epic, was also a sonneteer son·net·eer
1. A composer of sonnets.
2. An inferior poet.
Noun 1. sonneteer - a poet who writes sonnets
poet - a writer of poems (the term is usually reserved for writers of good poetry) of genius. This is not much appreciated. Robert Nye, for example, in his anthology The Faber Book of Sonnets, includes only four by Longfellow: "Chaucer," "The Cross of Snow" "Autumn," and "Divina Commedia." This is a disgraceful under-representation--Ezra Pound has six poems in the book! The inclusion of the over-wrought "Autumn" and the omission of "Mezzo Cammin" are both equally inexplicable.
This new Library of America edition includes fifty-two sonnets, if I have not miscounted, and no more than a dozen are duds. All, by the way, are in the Petrarchan form; Longfellow seems not to have attempted the "English" sonnet. The literary ones are quite well-known, I think, at least the ones on Dante and The Divine Comedy, and the flawless one on Chaucer: "An old man in a lodge within a park." The one on Shakespeare would be first-rate if Longfellow had not put the word "Musagetes" into the last line, driving everyone except Hellenists and balletomanes to their reference books.
Here are some lines of Longfellow's that you have probably never read. They are not especially distinguished lines, and I choose them for just that reason. They close the finale of "Tales of a Wayside Inn Tales of a Wayside Inn is a collection of poems by American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
First published in 1863, the poems are told to a group of adults in the tavern of the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts, by the landlord of the establishment. " (which, by the way, is very rewarding to read in its entirety).
Perchance the living still may look Into the pages of this book, And sec the days of long ago Floating and fleeting to and fro, As in the well-remembered brook They saw the inverted landscape gleam, And their own faces like a dream Look up upon them from below.
What can we say about these lines, 137 years later? Well, two interesting things: one, that they would still give pleasure to a lot of people, and two, that no poet would think of publishing such lines nowadays.
Here we have bumped up against one of the great conundrums of our time: whatever happened to popular poetry? Longfellow was one of the so-called "fireside poets The Fireside Poets (also known as the Schoolroom or Household Poets) were a group of 19th-century American poets from New England. The group is usually described as comprising Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell " of the nineteenth century. Huge numbers of ordinary people all over the English-speaking world read him with great enjoyment. His brother relates the following story from the poet's last visit to England in 1868:
Upon his arrival the queen sent a graceful message and invited him to Windsor Castle, but he told me no foreign tribute touched him deeper than the words of an English hod-carrier, who came up to the carriage-door at Harrow and asked permission to take the hand of the man who had written the Voices of the Night.
My own mother, the daughter of an English coal-miner, left school at age fourteen to go into domestic service. Yet she could recite "Excelsior" all the way through, and if she came to my room and found it a mess she would say, "It looks like the wreck of the Hesperus in here!"
Why does no American poet later than Frost give such widespread pleasure, or inspire such allegiance from nonliterary people? We are not unwilling to write poetry. Any magazine editor will tell you that the nation teems with poets. Nor are we unwilling to read it. There is a good market for books of poetry. Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf is a bestseller, Amazon sales rank 433. Even current poetry sells well: The Best American Poetry 2000 has Amazon rank 4,555, a very respectable showing. (Though this needs some discounting, as a book of this sort will be bought up in bulk by schools and colleges.)
And yet, whenever you actually hear someone quote poetry, it is always something old. I feel sure that whole days go by when no mouth anywhere in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. spontaneously, in a non-pedagogical context, quotes any line from any American poem later than Frost's "Stopping by Woods" 1923). Ask any well-educated, but not particularly literary, friend to quote four lines by a living poet. Now ask your dentist, your mechanic, your plumber. You will be lucky to get anything but blank looks and shrugs.
It is hard to blame the poets. I happen to believe that the Modern Movement was all a ghastly mistake, like Communism, and that, as with Communism, it will take a century or so to clean up the mess. Now, there can be no forgiving Lenin, but what were poets supposed to do--go on turning out copies of "Snow-Bound" or A Shropshire Lad A Shropshire Lad (1896) is a cycle of sixty-three poems by the English poet Alfred Edward Housman. Reception
A Shropshire Lad was first published in 1896 at Housman's own expense after several publishers had turned it down, much to the surprise of his ? Lapse back into heroic couplets? In art and literature, new things must be tried, old habits challenged, eggs broken in the hope of making omelettes. It is just our bad luck that none of the things tried in the twentieth century worked very well, that the omelettes were all inedible.
In particular, of course, free verse free verse, term loosely used for rhymed or unrhymed verse made free of conventional and traditional limitations and restrictions in regard to metrical structure. Cadence, especially that of common speech, is often substituted for regular metrical pattern. did not work very well. Personally I am not a purist pur·ist
One who practices or urges strict correctness, especially in the use of words.
pu·ristic adj. about this, as for example was G. K. Chesterton: "Free verse? You may as well call sleeping in a ditch `free architecture'!" I think free verse can occasionally be very striking. Any comprehensive anthology of good poetry will include some free-verse pieces (my own CD has 5 percent, which I think is about right). The trouble is that there is far too much of it about, and people have been led to believe that fundamental poetic skills are not very important or even that they are altogether unnecessary.
In the early 1980s I taught a college course in poetry using the second edition 1965) of C. F. Main and Peter Seng's Wadsworth Handbook and Anthology, an excellent text for that purpose. I lost the book somewhere on my subsequent travels, but three or four years later decided to buy another copy, and duly did so. By this time the book had advanced to a fourth edition 0978), and I was dismayed to see that the lessons on scansion scan·sion
Analysis of verse into metrical patterns.
[Late Latin scnsi , which in the second edition were part of the main text, in the fourth had been relegated to an appendix! Probably they have been dropped altogether by now.
Here are some lines from a collection titled The George Washington Poems, by Diane Wakoski Diane Wakoski (born 1937) is an American poet who is associated with the "deep image" poets and the Beats.
Wakoski was born in Whittier, California and studied at the University of California, Berkeley, where she participated in Thom Gunn's poetry workshops. , published 1967.
George Washington, your name is on my lips. You had a lot of slaves. I don't like the idea of slaves. I know I am a slave to too many masters, already.
If this is poetry, what is not poetry? One thinks of Doctor Johnson's reply when asked if he thought any man could have written Macpherson's Ossian: "Yes, Sir, many men, many women, and many children." When an impressionable young person is told that this is poetry and that the kind of gassy gas·sy
adj. gas·si·er, gas·si·est
1. Containing or full of gas.
2. Resembling gas.
3. Slang Bombastic; boastful. drivel driv·el
v. driv·eled or driv·elled, driv·el·ing or driv·el·ling, driv·els
1. To slobber; drool.
2. To flow like spittle or saliva.
3. extruded by Maya Angelou at the first Clinton inauguration is also poetry; and when that young person furthermore learns that Ms. Wakoski is actually a full-time professional poet, who makes a decent middle-class living at it, and that Ms. Angelou has even got modestly rich from her vaporings, then that young person's attitude to poetry has been corrupted.
Free verse is not the whole of the problem, though. Even in the coldest depths of the free-verse nuclear winter, around 1970, plenty of dedicated poets were still writing formal, structured verse. Elizabeth Bishop's perfect little villanelle vil·la·nelle
A 19-line poem of fixed form consisting of five tercets and a final quatrain on two rhymes, with the first and third lines of the first tercet repeated alternately as a refrain closing the succeeding stanzas and joined as the final "One Art," for example--sufficiently well-known, at any rate among literary types, to have generated at least one good parody--was written in 1975. Richard Wilbur, John Hollander, and many others produced, and are still producing, verse in traditional forms. The late 1970s in fact saw the birth of the so-called "New Formalism," in which a whole tribe of younger poets
committed themselves to working with rhyme, meter, and traditional structures. By the late 1980s these traditionalists had made enough noise to provoke a counter- (perhaps I mean counter-counter-) revolution. The aforementioned Ms. Wakoski's famous broadside "The New Conservatism in American Poetry" (in American Book Review, May-June 1986) pretty much said that anyone who wrote formal poetry was a fascist. With Hollander she went further, calling him "Satan." Hollander's own views on the matter, which are irenic i·ren·ic also i·ren·i·cal
Promoting peace; conciliatory.
[Greek eir and accommodationist ac·com·mo·da·tion·ist
One that compromises with or adapts to the viewpoint of the opposition: a factional split between the hard-liners and the accomodationists. , can be inspected in his introduction to The Best American Poetry 1998.
Across the pond, formal verse has had more mainstream support. In London, Auberon Waugh's Literary Review has for fifteen years been running a monthly poetry competition whose rules stipulate that entries must rhyme, scan, and make sense. The London Spectator ceased accepting poetry submissions at all some years ago on the grounds that none of the work submitted was any good; the outcry was, they report, "less than deafening." They have recently reversed this policy. In a stirring editorial in the September 23, 2000 issue, they announced that they had hired a poetry editor. "He has a beard.... He knows the difference between a tribrach tri·brach
A metrical foot having three short or unstressed syllables.
[Latin tribrachys, from Greek tribrakhus : tri-, tri- + brakhus, short; see and a molossus." Their requirements are less strict than Mr. Waugh's, insisting only that poems scan, have an argument, and show decorum DECORUM. Proper behaviour; good order.
2. Decorum is requisite in public places, in order to permit all persons to enjoy their rights; for example, decorum is indispensable in church, to enable those assembled, to worship. . And, of course, The New Criterion deserves an honorable mention in this context. Still I doubt any of it will make much difference. I have read the New Formalists with painstaking attention. (Rebel Angels, edited by Mark Jarman and David Mason [Story Line Press, 1996], is a representative collection.) I have been a Literary Review subscriber since its first issue. I applaud what these poets are doing, and am very glad they are doing it, but I can't remember a line of their stuff, though I have sincerely tried.
Probably the dropping of dead languages from ordinary education is part of the problem. Translation into and out of Greek and Latin provided our forefathers forefathers npl → antepasados mpl
forefathers npl → ancêtres mpl
forefathers npl → Vorfahren with a gruelling but effective training in the mechanisms of poetry. Kingsley Amis remarks in the introduction to his Popular Reciter that as a student in an ordinary English secondary school before World War II he was often assigned such tasks:
an exercise that gives you an insight hard to achieve by other means: the fact, noted by my fellows and me, that Mrs. Hemans's "Graves of a Household" went into Latin elegiacs with exceptional ease encourages a second look at that superficially superficial piece.
The 1930s seem like an awfully long time ago here. Fifty years earlier, Samuel Longfellow was boasting that the opening words of his brother's "Evangeline" were by then as familiar as [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII ASCII or American Standard Code for Information Interchange, a set of codes used to represent letters, numbers, a few symbols, and control characters. Originally designed for teletype operations, it has found wide application in computers. ] or "Arma virumque cano:" That assertion is, of course, just as true today, though in a depressingly different sense.
The more I think about this, the more I come to believe that there is some great mystery here. It's not anybody's fault; it's just something in the air. Something, undoubtedly, that, if we could understand it, would explain the related fact that when, at random, I switch on a serious music radio station, nine times out of ten the music being played will have been composed before World War I; or that, when I buy an opera on CD, or steel myself to assault the logistical obstacles involved in going to see an opera at Lincoln Center (transport, baby-sitters, getting a ticket), it is never for any work later than Turandot (1926).
Whatever the explanation, it is a plain fact that poets like Longfellow attained a breadth and durability of appeal that modern poets, for all their writer-in-residence sinecures and Pulitzer Prizes, can only dream of. A common fixture in American homes of all classes during the middle of the twentieth century was Hazel Felleman's 1936 anthology The Best Loved Poems of the American People. Here are all the hoary hoar·y
adj. hoar·i·er, hoar·i·est
1. Gray or white with or as if with age.
2. Covered with grayish hair or pubescence: hoary leaves.
3. verses and song lyrics our parents and grandparents grandparents npl → abuelos mpl
grandparents grand npl → grands-parents mpl
grandparents grand npl knew, of quality high, low and desperate: "Casabianca" "The Sidewalks of New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of " "Solitude" and so on. Doubleday has recently reissued the book and it seems to be doing well; the Amazon sales rank is 46,771. This ranking--I believe I am on firm ground in saying this--owes nothing whatever to assistance from our educational institutions.
By way of comparison, here are some other Amazon rankings for poetry: Ezra Pound's Selected Poems 59,457, Rebel Angels 140,602, Diane Wakoski's Emerald Ice 247,201 and Rita Dove's Grace Notes 29,335. The Top 500 Poems, a popular recent anthology of what it claims to be "the most anthologized poems," ranks 84,437. Its poets are arranged in chronological order by birth date from John Skelton to Sylvia Plath; John Keats falls precisely in the middle of the book, and is therefore the median poet of popular enthusiasm, so far as birth order is concerned. Sylvia Plath was born in 1932.
This new Longfellow edition reminds us that there are smaller losses within the larger. Even more thoroughly than we have lost popular poetry, we have lost narrative poetry. I am sure there must be many people of the older generation who can still recite "The Wreck of the Hesperus" or "Paul Revere's Ride "Paul Revere's Ride" is an American poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that commemorates the actions of American patriot Paul Revere on April 18, 1775.  The poem was written on April 19, 1860 and first published in The Atlantic Monthly in January of 1861. ," but who now reads the long ones: "Evangeline," "The Courtship of Miles Standish," and "Hiawatha"? If you raise the question, people laugh and say: "Nobody has time for that kind of thing nowadays."
This is just not true. I declaimed "Miles Standish" out loud at a leisurely pace, pausing now and then to look things up, in one hour and twenty-nine minutes--much less time that it takes to watch the average movie. Silent reading would be faster. I am sure that anyone who cared to could get through "Evangeline" in an hour and a quarter. You could probably read both poems in the time it takes to watch The Patriot (165 minutes). Even "Hiawatha" could be traversed between dinner and bedtime by anyone who set himself to it.
So why are we all--I include myself here --willing to do the one thing but not the other--watch a 165-minute movie but not, unless paid to do so, read an eighty-nine-minute story in dactylic hexameters? Longfellow's epics are much more authentic than Mel Gibson's--though it is interesting that the portrait of American Indians as seen through white men's eyes in "Miles Standish" is so different from the one in the earlier Indian-viewpoint "Hiawatha." There the Indians are noble savages with a rich oral culture; in the later "Miles Standish" they are treacherous, boastful, and cruel. This latter portrayal accords much better with the accounts we have from people who actually lived among New World aborigines aborigines: see Australian aborigines. : W. H. Hudson Noun 1. W. H. Hudson - English naturalist (born in Argentina) (1841-1922)
William Henry Hudson, Hudson in Green Mansions, for example, or the memoirs of Kit Carson. The other is much closer to modern sensibilities. This, however, will not help "Hiawatha" become known again. One knows without trying that any attempt to revive interest in narrative verse would be futile. We do not read as our grandfathers read, we do not hear as they heard.
Much less to be regretted is the change in taste that has made Longfellow's prose unreadable. Perhaps "unreadable" is over-stating things somewhat; as a conscientious reviewer, I actually did read Longfellow's short novel Kavanagh all the way through --it is included in its entirety in this Library of America edition. What stuff! I would have been better employed in back-washing my sump pump. Longfellow himself seems to have been aware of his failings as a prose writer, and after Kavanagh attempted no more.
I wonder why Mr. McClatchy included the whole of this sorry piece, when he might have given us more of Longfellow's translations. In addition to three page-length extracts from The Divine Comedy, he has chosen just twelve poems translated from other languages; twice that number would not have been too many. Longfellow was a gifted linguist. He learned French, Spanish, Italian, and German to a good degree of reading competency--we have independent confirmations of this--in nine, nine, twelve, and six months, respectively, between 1826 and 1829. Much of the rest of his life was devoted to enlarging his knowledge of the literature in these tongues, and in acquiring others. He was a busy and skillful skill·ful
1. Possessing or exercising skill; expert. See Synonyms at proficient.
2. Characterized by, exhibiting, or requiring skill. translator of poetry from, by Arvin's count, eleven different languages altogether.
The translating of poetry is an oddly addictive business, as anyone that has tried it will confirm. Longfellow found it intensely stimulating--"Like running a ploughshare through the soil of one's mind," he told his friend Ferdinand Freiligrath--and gave himself over to it with a passion. The results on display in this edition range from a grave and fine-wrought, almost Shakespearean, rendering of one of Michelangelo's sonnets for Vittoria Colonna to the following irresistible little carved cherry-stone titled "A Neapolitan Canzonet can·zo·net
A short lighthearted air or song.
[From Italian canzonetta, diminutive of canzone; see canzone.] ."
One morning, on the sea-shore as I strayed, My heart dropped in the sand beside the sea; I asked of yonder mariners, who said They saw it in thy bosom,--worn by thee. And I am come to seek that heart of mine, For I have none, and thou, alas! hast two; If this be so, dost know what thou shalt do? --Still keep my heart, and give me, give me thine.
Amongst other reasons for wishing there were more translations here, I note that four of the twelve are love poems, a genre the poet himself ventures into, unaccompanied un·ac·com·pa·nied
1. Going or acting without companions or a companion: unaccompanied children on a flight.
2. Music Performed or scored without accompaniment. , just once in the whole of the rest of the book. Longfellow could translate love poetry very effectively, but he could not write it, and seems to have known this. That single solo venture is "The Evening Star," addressed to Fanny shortly after their marriage. It strikes me--I think it must strike any modern reader--as decidedly peculiar.
Setting to one side the small differences of opinion registered above, I believe that Mr. McClatchy and the Library of America have done a fine job with this little volume. We cannot, indeed, buy with gold the old associations, but anyone who cares to settle down with this Longfellow can find some familiar lines in their native habitat, or make the acquaintance of some beautiful sonnets, or perhaps even discover a taste for narrative verse. Longfellow will never again be as much loved, prized, and memorized as he was in 1850, or even 1950; but when you read him at his best--the sonnets and short ballads, the translations, "The Building of the Ship", "A Psalm of Life A Psalm of Life is a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
The text of the poem is:
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.
<poem> Tell me not, in mournful numbers, Life is but an empty dream! For the soul is dead that slumbers, And "--you know that this is the real stuff--"the true, the blushful Hippocrene." The United States has not engendered so many first-rank poets that we can afford to neglect one.
(1) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Poems and Other Writings, edited by J. D. McClatchy J.D. "Sandy" McClatchy (1945-) is an American poet, literary critic, and editor of the Yale Review. Life
McClatchy was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in 1945. He was educated at Georgetown and Yale, from which he received his Ph.D. in 1974. ; The Library of America, 875 pages, $35.