Henry Wadsworth Longfellow -American Fireside Poet

A poet who captured the imagination of America.

"Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the 18th of April, in 75;
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' ...

And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night ...

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 ...

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."

These lines are from the poem, Paul Revere's Ride, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was born FEBRUARY 27, 1807.

His grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, had been a general in the Revolutionary War.

He was famous for escaping from British Fort George in Castine, Maine.

Confined in a guarded room, and convinced they were going to shipped back to England, where they would be tried for treason and hung, they came up with a plan.

For three weeks, General Peleg Wadsworth and Major Benjamin Burton quietly used a gimlet - a small hand drill, to drill a circle of holes in the ceiling, using bread to plug the holes to avoid them being noticed.

Then, on a stormy night in June, 1781, they punched out the circle and climbed up.

Crawling along ceiling joists, they used blankets to lower themselves over the earthworks.

Then running to the banks of the Penobscot River, they found an Indian canoe, crossed and hid in the woods three days to evade search parties.

British Colonel John Campbell wrote to his superior, Sir Henry Clinton, June 22, 1781:

"I am sorry to inform your Excellency that on the 19th instant, the Rebel Brigadier General Wadsworth who was confined here in a Barrack Room, With one Burton once a Major of Militia, made their escape, by cutting a hole in the ceiling of the room, although two sentries were constantly posted at the door of the room and a window."

Peleg Wadsworth was elected a U.S. Congressman from Maine. Henry's father, Stephen, was also a U.S. Congressman.

Henry's uncle, after whom he was named, was Henry Wadsworth, a Naval hero killed fighting Muslim Barbary Pirates at the Battle of Tripoli, 1804.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a Harvard professor and one of the popular American Fireside poets, along with:

  • William Cullen Bryant,
  • John Greenleaf Whittier,
  • James Russell Lowell,
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Longfellow's poems were noted for imparting cultural and moral values, focusing on life being more than material pursuits.

He wrote classics which captured the American imagination:

  • Voices of the Night (1839);

  • Hyperion: A Romance (1839), which influenced Frances Appleton to marry Longfellow, after she had previously rejected him;

  • The Village Blacksmith (1840), was a tribute to his great-grandfather, who was a hardworking blacksmith and pious, upstanding citizen in the town of Gorham, Maine;

  • The Wreck of the Hesperus (1842), based on the Great Blizzard of 1839, which destroyed 20 ships);

  • The Song of Hiawatha (1855) a tragic Indian love story set on the shores of Lake Superior, about Hiawatha, an Ojibew warrior, and his love for Minnehaha, a Dakota woman;

  • The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858), which sold 10,000 copies in London in a single day;

  • The Divine Tragedy (1871);

  • Christus: A Mystery (1872); and

  • Evangeline: A Tale of Acadia (1847), the tragic story British expulsion of French settlers out of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, with many resettling in Louisiana.

In Evangeline, Longfellow wrote:

"Man is unjust, but God is just; and finally justice triumphs."

The house Longfellow lived in, 105 Brattle Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, had previously been used as the Headquarters of General George Washington during the British's Siege of Boston, July 1775-April 1776.

In 1842, Longfellow expressed his public support for abolishing slavery by publishing a collection, Poems on Slavery, which was reprinted by The New England Anti-Slavery Association.

He was friends with vocal anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts.

Longfellow wrote a poem about the Ottoman Muslim invasion of Eastern Europe in the 1400s.

Courageous leaders in the fight were:

  • Bulgaria's Prince Fruzhin (c.1393-1444);
  • Hungary's John Hunyadi (1406-1456);
  • Poland's Wladyslaw III (1424-1444);
  • Moldova's Stephen the Great (1433-1504); and
  • Romania's Vlad III - The Impaler (1428-1477).

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem to commemorate Albania's hero George Castriot (1405-1468), called "Skanderbeg" by Albanians and "Iskander" by Turks.

Skanderbeg was one of the boy hostages taken from Christian families by Sultan Murad II's "devshirme," to be raised in the Ottoman court, converted to Islam, and become a soldier in the Muslim army.

Skanderbeg served the Sultan for 20 years, but in 1443, he abandoned Islam and converted back to Christianity.

A similar trend is occurring today.

The British journal The New Statesman (5/17/13) cited Usama Hasan, a senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation: "Many converts leave the faith ... some stats say 50 per cent will leave within a few years."

Pew Research Center (Jan. 27, 2011) reported "the number of people who become Muslims through conversion seems to be roughly equal to the number of Muslims who leave the faith."

Skanderbeg then led a rebellion against his former Muslim master, Sultan Murad II.

He became a major obstacle to Turkish expansion into Europe.

Skanderbeg, which means treacherous, captured the Albanian city of Croia (Kruje) in 1444 by using a forged letter from Sultan Murad II.

Skanderbeg was noted for his hit-and-run and scorched-earth tactics, as well as punishing Venetian merchants who were selling military supplies to the Ottomans.

Among his many battles, Skanderbeg fought in:

  • Battle of Nis, 1443;
  • Battle of Kunovica, 1444;
  • Gained control of Zeta;
  • Captured castles at Petrela, Preze, Guri i Bardhe, Svetigrad, Modric and others;
  • Battle of Torvioll, 1444;
  • Battle in the Mokra Valley, 1445;
  • Battle of Otonete, 1446;
  • Battle near Shkoder, 1448;
  • Battle of Oranik, 1448;
  • Seige of Kruje; and
  • Battle of Ohrid in 1464.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in his epic poem about Skanderbeg- Iskander:

... In the darkness of the night
Iskander, the pride and boast
Of that mighty Othman (Ottoman) host,
With his routed Turks, takes flight ...

In the middle of the night,
In a halt of the hurrying flight,
There came a Scribe of the King
Wearing his signet-ring ...

"Now write me a writing, O Scribe ...
A writing sealed with thy ring,
To King Amurath's Pasha
In the city of Croia (Kruje)
That he surrender the same
In the name of my master, the King (Sultan);
For what is writ in his name
Can never be recalled" ...

Of Iskander's scimitar
From its sheath, with jewels bright,
Shot, as he thundered: "Write!"
And the trembling Scribe obeyed ...

... And Iskander answered and said:
"They lie on the bloody sod
By the hoofs of horses trod;
But this was the decree
Of the watchers overhead;
For the war belongeth to God,
And in battle who are we,
Who are we, that shall withstand
The wind of his lifted hand?" ...

... Then swift as a shooting star
The curved and shining blade
Of Iskander's scimitar
From its sheath, with jewels bright ...

... Then again Iskander cried:
"Now follow whither I ride,
For here thou must not stay ...

... No sound was heard but the sound
Of the hoofs of Iskander's steed,
As forward he sprang with a bound ...

... Then onward he rode and afar,
With scarce three hundred men,
Through river and forest and fen,
O'er the mountains of Argentar ...

... Then his trumpeters in the van
On their silver bugles blew,
And in crowds about him ran
Albanian and Turkoman ...

... Then to the Castle White
He rode in regal state,
And entered in at the gate ...

... In all his arms bedight,
And gave to the Pasha
Who ruled in Croia (Kruje)
The writing of the King,
Sealed with his signet-ring.
And the Pasha bowed his head,
And after a silence said:
"Allah is just and great!
I yield to the will divine,
The city and lands are thine;
Who shall contend with Fate?" ...

... Anon from the castle walls
The crescent banner falls,
And the crowd beholds instead,
Like a portent in the sky,
Iskander's banner fly,
The Black Eagle with double head;
And a shout ascends on high,

For men's souls are tired of the Turks,
And their wicked ways and works,
That have made of Ak-Hissar
A city of the plague;
And the loud, exultant cry
That echoes wide and far
Is: "Long live Scanderbeg!"

Longfellow was heartbroken when his wife died in a tragic house fire in 1861, and his son ran off to fight in the Civil War.

He occupied his time, as he spoke several European languages, on the monumental task of translating Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy: Infernoe, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, published in 1867.

In the last poem he wrote, The Bells of San Blas (1882), Longfellow described a forgotten small town on Pacific coast of Mexico:

"... But to me, a dreamer of dreams,
To whom what is and what seems
Are often one and the same,—
The Bells of San Blas to me
Have a strange, wild melody,
And are something more than a name.

For bells are the voice of the church;
They have tones that touch and search
The hearts of young and old;
One sound to all ..."

Longfellow died on March 24, 1882, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 1884, he became the first non-British writer to be represented by a sculpted bust in London's Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.

In a deeply reflective poem, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote "A Psalm of Life," 1838:

"Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul ...

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,-act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us,
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us,
Footprints on the sands of time;

-Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again."

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