Life and Works- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator of the nineteenth century. He was born on February 27, 1807, at Portland, a seaport town in Maine, USA. His father, Stephen Longfellow, was a lawyer. Henry Longfellow was the second of eight children. At the age of three, he was enrolled in a dance school. By six, he was enrolled at Portland Academy, a private school. As a student, he was very sincere and studious. He became fluent in Latin during that time. His mother, Zilpah Longfellow, encouraged his enthusiasm for study. She introduced him to Robinson Crusoe and Don Quixote. He then studied at Bowdoin College, graduating from the same in 1825. Because of his outstanding erudition, he was offered a job as professor of modern languages at his college. His translation of Horace brought him recognition. As a result, he was sent to Europe to study French, Spanish, and Latin.

During this period, apart from French, Spanish and Latin, he learned Portuguese and German. In 1829, he returned to Bowdoin and joined his duties. During his teaching career at this college, he translated some textbooks in French, Latin, and Spanish, 1831, he married Mary Storer Potter, his childhood friend. They settled in Brunswick. In 1834, he was offered the Smith Professorship of Modern Languages at Harvard and a trip to Europe. During this trip, his wife died after several weeks of illness. Her death shocked Longfellow terribly. He returned to USA in 1836 and took up a professorship at Harvard. In 1843, Longfellow married Fanny Appleton, the daughter of a wealthy Boston industrialist. As a professor, he was very popular, but he himself did not like to teach. In 1854, he retired from Harvard to devote himself entirely to writing. In 1861, his second wife was accidentally burnt to death. Mortified by her death, Longfellow never completely recovered from the shock. On March 24, 1882, he died after a few days of severe stomach pain caused by peritonitis.

Longfellow’s first printed poem, The Battle of Lovell’s Pond, was published in the Portland Gazette on November 17, 1820. His first major works are Voices of the Night (1839), and Ballads and Other Poems (1841). His Voices of the Night is a collection of both original and translated poems. It includes some well-known poems such as The Psalm of Life, The Beleaguered City and The Midnight Mass of the Dying Year. The Village Blacksmith and The Wreck of the Hesperus in Ballads and Other Poems were very popular. His other important works are Evangeline (1847), The Golden Legend (1851), The Song of Hiawatha (1855), The Courtship of Miles Standish and Other Poems (1858), Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863) etc. He was the first American to translate Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

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