Longfellow: The Man Who Invented America

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Isle of Wight, 1868

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Isle of Wight, 1868

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Text by Joyce Butler

Images from Maine Historical Society and the Longfellow National Historic Site

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the second of eight children born to Stephen and Zilpah Wadsworth Longfellow, had a happy childhood.

Nurtured by an intelligent mother and conscientious father, Longfellow and his brothers and sisters enjoyed the comfort of a middle-class home. He experienced the pastoral world of his grandfathers' farms in Maine. He was a schoolboy when educators were teaching what it meant to be an American.

Longfellow was born after America gained its independence from England, but he was descended from patriots of the Revolution. He was an impressionable five year old during the War of 1812.

Longfellow wrote his poetry during an era of drastic change in America and addressed the life experiences of his readers in a changing world.

While he is remembered as a poet, Longfellow also was a scholar of immense ability, a translator of great technical skill, and a devoted husband and father.

He was the most popular living author in 19th century America and the most widely read American poet who ever lived.

New editions of Longfellow's poetry are published regularly, including a recent Library of America collection of poetry and prose issued in 2000. The volume's editor, J. D. McClatchy, wrote, "Here are the poems that created an American mythology ... [and] whose phrases and characters have become part of [our] culture."

Longfellow is part of the culture of America and the rest of the English-speaking world. His white-haired, bearded image continues to represent the persona of what we think of when we think "poet."

This three-part exhibit is based on a gallery exhibit by the same name that was held at the Maine Historical Society from April to December 2002. Joyce Butler was the curator.

For more about Longfellow, including teacher resources and a database of Longfellow's poems, go to: www.hwlongfellow.org

Click on one a link below the images to view each of the three parts of this exhibit: Early Years; Common Man, American Poet; and Beloved and Enduring Poet.