Henry Wardsworth Longfellow is one of the most prominent American poets. His works are associated with the period of romanticism in world literature. Even though Longfellow was supposed to pursue a career as a lawyer and follow the family traditions, he preferred the literary path instead. His life was challenging, but the poetry of the author remained optimistic, enthusiastic, and inspiring. Over the years, his literary style was gradually transforming so that a focus shifted from nature admiration to the philosophical lyrics and national epos.
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Longfellow was keen on literature and started to write the first poems during his college education. He sent them to journals for publication, but that did not make him very famous. The initial stage of his literary career is characterized by such themes as a description of nature, its beauty, and power. In the poem Autumnal Nightfall, the author uses metaphors and personification, describing the fountain with a hollow voice and the moon unveiling her brow.
Another poem, An April Day, is saturated with epithets – green slopes, silver woods, wide glows. Henry Longfellow spent most of his life in New England, so he was indulged and intoxicated by green woods and beautiful hills all around. His poems show the value of nature by evoking people’s love and care for it, reconsidering human impact on the earth (Xu and Nangong 85). Therefore, the themes concerning nature and its protection ethically appeal to people, encouraging them to preserve the environment. Those poems were actually not only in the nineteenth century, but they also are of great importance these days.
Henry Longfellow composed poems, the themes of which echoed with the principles and cornerstones of that time. Romantic ideas centered around “the spiritual and aesthetic dimension of nature, metaphors of organic growth, and art as inspiration” (Sultana and Islam 58). The authors of romanticism were convinced that art had more potential than science to express the universal truth. Moreover, they were concentrated on the self and highlighted the importance of human personality examination.
These ideas are depicted in the works of Longfellow of the 1830s throughout the interaction of man and nature. His poems The Indian Hunter and The Sea-Diver explicitly show the beauty of nature and its perception by people. Longfellow explains that nature and man are not separate: they rather coexist and mutually affect each other. These poems extend the concepts from the earlier works as the author applies more sophisticated approaches based on his experience and ethics.
The literary career of Longfellow was steadily developing, so the author elaborated on new themes in his works. He also created different types of literary works, including ballads, serenades, prose, and poems. The author’s education in Europe has significantly influenced his writings which shaped the literature of those times. Along with the translation of Spanish, English, and Italian works, he was imitating their features in the poems and stories. The themes of Longfellow’s works remained traditional, optimistic, and passionate, which could be easily read and recited (Li 948). The major focus shifted towards the essence of human beings and emotions.
One of the most well-known poems in American Romantic literature is A Psalm of Life that was composed in 1838. The major theme of this poem reveals an “optimistic attitude toward life in that one need not regret the past misfortunes or miss the past successes” (Li 948). Throughout the whole poem, the author uses common expressions that allow readers to juxtapose and analyze these ideas in terms of daily life. A Psalm of Life evolved not occasionally: tragic events in the personal life of Longfellow preceded it. His wife died in 1835, but this case did not destroy the moral strength of the author. On the contrary, it motivated me to write A Psalm of Life, integrating a motivational spirit. The major theme of this poem implies setting explicit goals and fulfillment of step-by-step guidance to their accomplishment.
Furthermore, the poem A Psalm of Life marks the beginning of the next stage in the literary career of the author. It is characterized by philosophical lyric approaches with an in-depth concentration on humanistic sympathy. Songs of Slavery depicts the images of slaves whose human dignity is humiliated by white masters. Longfellow managed to depict the realities concerning the exhausting work of black servants, their selling and transportation, cruel mockery.
In his poems, the Romantic style techniques illustrate a growing understanding of enslaved people and their lives, which raises national and cultural values in Americans. Furthermore, Songs of Slavery indicates a transition from nature admiration focus to national consciousness. The later works of Longfellow incorporate ideas of ethnic and racial minorities’ inequality along with a necessity to acknowledge and address their concerns.
Henry Longfellow made a significant contribution to American literature, specifically during the period of romanticism. His first poems implemented metaphors, epithets, and personifications to describe nature as a huge living organism. Afterward, he incorporated the role of humans and their collaboration with nature, encouraging readers with an ethical appeal to preserve the environment.
In the 1930s, the life of the poet was challenging, which also influenced the themes in his literary works. A Psalm of Life written in 1838 develops an optimistic and motivational approach, stimulating one not to surrender. Overall, Longfellow’s works reflect upon the topics typical for the Early Romantics – nature, human personality and emotions, optimism.
Li, Ming. “The Creative Poetry Translation Method from the Perspective of the Cultural Turn — Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life as a Case Study.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 6, no. 5, 2016, pp. 946-951.
Sultana, Sabera, and Md. Mohiul Islam. “Investigating American Romanticism: A Comparative Study.” IOSR Journal of Humanities And Social Science, vol. 21, no. 4, 2016, pp. 58-65.
Xu, Jingcheng, and Meifang Nangong. “H.W. Longfellow: A Poetical-Dwelling Poet of Ecological Wisdom from the Perspective of Eco-Criticism.” English Language Teaching, vol. 5, no. 5, 2012, pp. 85-100.