Thursday, June 4, 2020

"Listen my children and you shall hear..."

If you can complete the phrase in the title of this post you may be in my generation. Today Michael Dirda reviews Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, by Nicholas Basbanes. From that review:
When I was growing up, there were four junior high schools in my hometown: Hawthorne, Whittier, Irving and Longfellow. They were all built in the 1920s and named in honor of what were then America’s most respected, and respectable, 19th-century writers. Forty years later, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, John Greenleaf Whittier and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow still featured prominently in the school system’s English classes. To speak just of poetry, my classmates and I read “Paul Revere’s Ride,” “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” “The Village Blacksmith” and even the book-length “Evangeline.”

As it happens, all these are by Longfellow....
I had the same experience in grade school.
.... They are narrative poems, patriotic in character and chockablock with memorable lines: “One, if by land, and two, if by sea,” “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?,” “Under a spreading chestnut-tree/ The village smithy stands,” “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks.” To Longfellow we owe dozens of striking phrases we still use: “footprints in the sands of time,” “forever and a day,” “ships that pass in the night,” “A banner with a strange device/ Excelsior!” Because they told stories in verse, his poems — others include “The Song of Hiawatha” and “The Wreck of the Hesperus” — were popular recital pieces back in the day when dramatic declamation was a minor art. ....

Sadly, America’s first world-famous poet fell from favor during the 20th century. ....

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