Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Early Life

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born on the 27th of February in 1807, in Portland, Maine.  He was the bright son of Stephen Longfellow, a lawyer, while her mother, Zilpah Longfellow, was the daughter of a revolutionary war hero. Henry was named after his paternal uncle who died in the battle of Tripoli. His early years were filled with love and the pleasures of family life. His passionate mother encouraged his enthusiasm for learning and introduced him to literature and classics such as Don Quixote and Robinson Cruise at a very young age. These early experiences set the grounds for most of his writings he wrote in his later years.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow started his educational journey at the age of three from a dame school and later, at six, he was enrolled at the private Portland Academy. During these years, he became fluent in Latin. His interest in literature was also nurtured with the successful publication, “The Battle of Lovell’s Pond.” After spending quality time at Portland Academy, he attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1822. There, he met and developed a cordial relationship with Nathanial Hawthorne who further helped him pursuing his literary goals. His father’s book collection also provided him with various literary models to follow. After encouragement from one of his professors, Thomas Cogswell Upham, he sent various literary pieces to newspapers and magazines for publication.

Personal Life and Tragedy

Longfellow married twice in life. First, he married his childhood friend, Mary Storer Potter in 1831. Unfortunately, Mary died after four years of marriage. Later, during his trip to Switzerland in 1838, Longfellow met Boston industrialist, Nathan Appleton, and his family. His meeting with Nathen’s daughter, Frances, lit a spark of love in his heart but she was not interested to develop any kind of relationship with Henry. Being deeply in love with the lady, Longfellow waited patiently for her positive gesture. Finally, after seven years of intense wait, Frances (Fanny) sent him a letter and expressed her feelings for him. The couple got married in 1843 and had six children together. Fanny’s dress caught fire in 1861 and she did not survive the tragic fire accident. However, her death brought a great loss to the family; Longfellow was devastated and never recovered from this great loss.

Some Important Facts of His Life

  1. He published his first piece of writing, “The Battle of Lovell’s Pond” at the age of twelve.
  2. He died on the 24th of March in 1882, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  3. He became the first American whose bust was placed in Westminster Abbey, England after his death.

Some Important Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  • Best Poems: He was an outstanding writer and poet, some of his best poems include “The Children’s Hour”, “The Psalm of Life”, “The Landlord’s Tale: Paul Revere’s Ride”, “The Wreck of the Hesperus” and “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls.”
  • Other Works: Besides writing poetry, he tried his hands on other areas too. Some of them include Coplas de Don Jorge Manrique (Translation from Spanish), Dante’s Divine Comedy (Translation), The Waif, Poems of Places and Poets, and Poetry of Europe.

His Career

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow started expressing his feelings on paper at a very young age and earned a lot of respect and praise not only from the audiences and readers but also the notable literary figures of his age. Although his father wanted him to follow his footsteps, yet his love for literature provided him with the reason to express himself. He began his literary career by writing for magazines and newspapers. He published Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea, his travel sketches but the publication did not earn the desired respect. Later, in 1839, he came up with another collection, Voices of the Night, which contained his forever green poems like “The Psalm of Life,”, “Hymn to the Night,” and “The Light of the Stars.” This book earned him immediate success and the same year he published his romantic novel, Hyperion. His other publications include Ballads and the Other Poems, The Divine Tragedy, and The Spanish Student.

His Style

Henry is considered as one of the leading Americans to pen down his emotions and thoughts, using a unique style. Instead of writing in straightforward and plain words, he preferred using various styles and forms in his poetry including free verse and hexameter. His published works exhibit great versatility; he wrote epic poems, sonnets, and ballads using heroic couplets, trochaic forms, blank verse, and other literary elements. In most of his early works, he worked on the principle of didacticism. However, his later works deal with religious beliefs, moral and cultural values. He also used allegory in his writings. Regarding literary devices, Henry often turns toward imagery, similes, metaphors, internal dialogues, and sound devices. The recurring themes in most of his writings are a man and the natural world, life and death, art and culture, and sufferings.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Impact on Future Literature

Henry Longfellow, with his unique abilities, left profound impacts on global literature. After many years of his demise, his works still gains the same prestigious attention. His unique ideas along with distinct literary qualities won appreciation from his readers, critics, and other fellow writers like Edgar Allan Poe, who was highly inspired by his works and considered him an important literary American figure.

Famous Quotes

  1. Life is real! Life is earnest!
    And the grave is not its goal;
    Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest,
    Was not spoken of the soul.
    Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
    Is our destined end or way;
    But to act, that each tomorrow
    Find us farther than today.” (A Psalm of Life)
  2. Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
    Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
    So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
    Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.” (The Theologian’s Tale)
  1. “Ah, how wonderful is the advent of spring! — the great annual miracle of the blossoming of Aaron’s rod, repeated on myriads and myriads of branches! — the gentle progression and growth of herbs, flowers, trees, — gentle and yet irrepressible, — which no force can stay, no violence restrain, like love, that wins its way and cannot be withstood by any human power, because itself is divine power. If spring came but once in a century, instead of once a year, or burst forth with the sound of an earthquake, and not in silence, what wonder and expectation there would be in all hearts to behold the miraculous change! But now the silent succession suggests nothing but necessity.” (Kavanagh: A Tale)