Henry Longfellow Considers Christmas

longfellowHenry Wadsworth Longfellow ~ Chromolithographic cigar box label, Heppenheimer & Maurer, ca. 1880

Long ago and far away, in a world still accepting of rhyme and meter, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow committed the crime which made him poeta non grata to later critics: he became popular with the reading public. By the mid-twentieth century, Longfellow’s accessibility had become, as Indiana University professor Christoph Irmscher puts it, his literary equivalent to the mark of Cain.

A century after publication of his most memorable works, Longfellow not only continued to be accessible, he had become ubiquitous.  By the time I graduated from high school, I’d read dozens of Longfellow poems and memorized others, either in part or in whole.  Some still linger: “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls”; “Paul Revere’s Ride“; “Evangeline.”

Even one of the most beloved advertising campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s, a series of Hamm’s beer commercials featuring a klutzy, log-rolling bear, drew on the couplets of Longfellow’s “Hiawatha” for its jingle: “From the land of sky-blue waters, from the land of pines, lofty balsams, comes the beer refreshing: Hamm’s, the beer refreshing.”

Once heard, the theme could not be forgotten. Even today, it evokes for me a cozy, book-lined room, a console tv with a 21″ screen, and an empty Oatmeal box, which I used to drum along with the commercial.

Strangely, what I’ve always assumed to be Native American drumming, wasn’t.  Advertiser Ray Mithun based the commercial’s pulsing rhythm on recordings of Haitian voodoo drumming. On the other hand, it seems my oatmeal box was a perfect accompaniment, since the commercials’ creators used an empty carton of Star-Kist tuna cans for their drum.

Long before I reached school age and discovered the Hamm’s-Hiawatha connection, even before I recognized Longfellow’s name, or began to enjoy his way of story-telling, one of his poems had become part of my bedtime ritual. First published in the September, 1860 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, it has been judged saccharine, sentimental, and not at all acceptable for children. But “The Children’s Hourbecame a part of my own most treasured hour: that time when my mother or father read to me at the end of the day.

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.
I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.
From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

As a child, I didn’t realize that Alice, Allegra and Edith were actual Longfellow children: half of the six Longfellow siblings. Another sister, Fanny, died in childhood; brothers Charles and Ernest completed the family circle.  By 1854, Longfellow had resigned his teaching position at Harvard, and was able to enjoy the support of this devoted family as he entered into an intensely creative period.

Glimpses of their life can be found in his wife Fanny’s journal. On July 9, 1861, she wrote:

We are all sighing for the good sea breeze instead of this stifling land one filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight.

The weight of Edith’s hair would lead to unspeakable tragedy. The day after her journal entry, Fanny decided to trim some of the seven year old’s hair. As was the custom, she set out to preserve a few of the clippings in an envelope. While using a candle to melt a bar of sealing wax to close the envelope, hot wax fell into her lap. Her dress ignited almost immediately, enveloping her in flames.

Attempting to protect Edith and Allegra, Fanny ran to Longfellow’s study, where he attemped to extinguish the flames with a throw rug. When that failed, he tried putting out the flames by wrapping his arms around her: burning his own face, arms, and hands in the process.

Fanny died of her injuries the next morning, July 11, 1861. Overcome by grief and still suffering from his burns, Longfellow wasn’t able to attend her funeral, or her burial in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. He carried scars from the experience throughout his life, both emotionally and physically. His iconic beard was neither a bow to custom nor an affectation, but a result of the scarring that made shaving difficult.

longfellowportrait

The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year later, on December 25, 1862, his journal reads, “A ‘Merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”  In 1863, there was no entry on Christmas day, but more than lingering grief over Fanny’s death was involved.

In March of 1863, two years after his mother’s death, Longfellow’s 18-year-old son Charles left home to join the Union Army. Knowing his father would disapprove, the young man wrote:

Dear Papa,
You know for how long a time I have been wanting to go to the war. I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave, but I cannot any longer. I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country, and I would willingly lay down my life for it, if it would be of any good. God bless you all.
Yours affectionately,
Charley

When his son missed the 1863 Gettysburg campaign because of “camp fever” (probably typhoid), Longfellow traveled to Washington, D.C. to oversee his care. After two weeks, the pair returned to Massachusetts, where Charles continued his recovery before returning to Virginia on August 14. In late November, the Army of the Potomac moved against Confederate forces in a series of maneuvers known as the Mine Run campaign.  On Nov. 27, 1863, while participating in the campaign, Charles suffered a severe shoulder wound and narrowly avoided spinal paralysis.

Once again, Longfellow traveled to Washington, and brought his son home. Charles survived, but never again served in the Army.  As for Longfellow, he summarized the past years’ ordeals to a friend with remarkable reserve, saying, “I have been through a great deal of trouble and anxiety.”

Despite Longfellow’s empty journal page, he did write on December 25, 1863. As he pondered both personal griefs and national strife, his poem “Christmas Bells” came to life. The song we know as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was based on his poem, despite having one or two of its more distressing verses excised. Here is the complete poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!
Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered from the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearthstones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on Earth, “ I said:
“For Hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on Earth, goodwill to men!

Ironically, Longfellow — often criticized for sentimental verse — had one of his strongest poems rendered somewhat sentimental by its popularizers. While preferring not to sing about cannons and their “black, accursed mouths” during Christmas celebrations is perfectly understandable, there is value in knowing the poem as written. Subject to our own personal griefs, and suffering through yet another time of great civil division and distress, we surely can say, with Longfellow, that we have been through a great deal of trouble and anxiety.

Nevertheless, there is hope. Despite everything, Longfellow believed that, and wrote it. We may not sing his words as written, but we can read them, and reflect. In the midst of the commercialism, contentiousness, and cynicism that mark our Christmas celebrations, the bells still ring.

Comments always are welcome.

100 thoughts on “Henry Longfellow Considers Christmas

    1. This one’s been percolating for a while. I really enjoyed learning more about the Longfellow family, and Henry’s relationships with scholars and authors in Europe. There were surprises, too: like Dorothea Dix visiting Charles while he was recovering from typhoid in D.C.

      While Longfellow may be out of favor, his work isn’t entirely forgotten. Just today, I picked up a bag of Community Coffee’s new private reserve blend at the store. It’s name? “Evangeline Blend,” of course.

      1. Yes, and I live with an Evangeline who read her namesake poem in school in the Philippines a long time ago. Not for nothing did the Americans set up a public education system over there after the war with Spain.

        1. I suspect she enjoyed that. I remember the first time I came across part of my name in a poem. It was Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” and for a few months I couldn’t get enough of it. Finally, I gave up trying to make “Linda Lee” fit the rhythm, and moved on.

          I was skimming the comments on some of your more recent posts, and discovered Eve’s photo, made visible. When I first stopped by, I couldn’t see it, but I’m not a member of Facebook and assumed that was the reason. I’m glad I went back. It’s a lovely photo.

  1. I played the Quaker Oats tom-tom as well. Unfortunately, much of the time it was in the early hours of the morning and maybe the scolding is why I never became a brilliant jazz drummer.

    Longfellow suffered from what recently modern musicians have been accused of…selling out (very modern musicians are only too happy to “sell out”)…because of their appeal to the masses. I find that ludicrous in Longfellow’s (and any other artist’s) case as what could possibly be wrong with acquainting the masses to appreciation of art and all that it brings to our souls?

    I think I am very much more of a gloom and doomer than you, Linda.Matter of fact, I am sure of it. But I do agree, there is always hope and ever the possibility that tomorrow will be a better day.

    1. I remember being chagrined when I was told I couldn’t use my oatmeal box in the rhythm band at school. We had to use real instruments, like wooden blocks and triangles. I don’t think they let us have tambourines. The teachers probably were smarter than that.

      I suspect jealousy played some part in his contemporaries’ criticism of Longfellow. As the first American poet to make a living — and a substantial one — from his writing, he no doubt was the target of less talented or less successful writers. And, given the family’s social standing, class envy could have played a role, too.

      All I know is that when my mother stalked into my room and said, “This place looks like the wreck of the Hesperus,” it was time for me to get busy and clean it up. It was the poetry of the masses meeting adolescent messes, and the poetry always won.

      As for optimism and pessimism, we shouldn’t forget the line attributed to former White House Press Secretary Jim Hagerty. It goes something like this: “Cheer up, they said. Things could be worse. So I cheered up, and sure enough — they got worse.”

      No matter how bad things are, that always makes me laugh.

  2. “The Wreck of the Hesperus” was the one we had to memorize for school. As you might suspect, the pathos and poignancy of the poem went sailing way over the heads of ten-year-olds in the 1950’s dutifully reciting same out in the flatlands, 600 miles from the nearest ocean.

    Then there is that beautiful Walt Kelly line which has delighted me for over half a century (!). I forget now whose mouth he put it into, but the business end of that coup de drôle went like this: “. . . Fold into tenths like an Arab and silently steal away.” Only just the other day did I finally discover where it came from. Yup. Longfellow. — https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45896

    The hoop skirts of the 1800’s were as dangerous as they were ludicrous. They were a known fire hazard, and many homes in both America and Europe suffered similar and worse tragedies as the Longfellow’s because of them.

    Your point of the Christmas carol lyrics conceived in war is as fraught and timely now as it was then, and perhaps even sadder now as we don’t seem to have learned very much in the century and a half since. If I can take more words from the mouth of the inimitable Walt Kelly, his quote, in an environmentalist context, unfortunately fits all too well in the context of peace on earth and why there still is a glaring lack of same: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

    1. I just told Steve, in the comment above, about my mother’s tendency to declare my adolescent bedroom a symbolic wreck of the Hesperus. I wonder what Longfellow would think, to see his metaphor used in such a context?

      You made me curious about the Kelly parody of the Longfellow stanza. I didn’t find anything about Kelly, but I found several places where Longfellow’s stanza was quoted, including an 1896 dinner meeting of the Philadelphia Hardware Association (page 43, left column), where it was used in the introduction of the new President by the old President. They knew how to do things, back in the day.

      As for learning things, I sometimes wonder if we’re not going backwards. In WWI, there at least was the Christmas truce. Some say it accomplished nothing, and in a sense I suppose that’s true. But it happened. Today, I see more and more people unwilling to endure even a day’s worth of truce — with anyone. Perhaps they fear a truce might turn into a crack — one of those that lets the light come in.

    1. It’s been interesting to me to realize how much of his poetry I remember, and how little I knew of his life. I suppose we were taught the biographical basics, but it’s always fun to dig a little deeper.

      Here’s a little tidbit that you might find of interest. A photo of the three Longfellow daughters was found on a Civil War battlefield. There’s no information at all about how it got there, or to whom it belonged, but there it was. It’s details like that I find fascinating.

  3. I always learn so much from your posts and with that comes my appreciation for your writing and research skills. That video at the end is quite powerful and haunting.

    1. That makes me happy, Jean. I certainly learn a lot in the process of putting a post together: whether it’s historical fact (as in this post) or simply something new about writing.

      The video’s well done, isn’t it? I found it two or three years ago — that’s when I discovered the “lost” verses from Longfellow’s poem.
      So many of our Christmas songs are based in poetry. Another of my favorites is “In The Bleak Mid-Winter,” which started out as a poem by Christina Rossetti. Read as text on a page, it’s nice, if a little bland. But set to music? It’s wonderful.

  4. I must admit to knowing nothing about Longfellow. Your post taught me much. He faced some terribly sad things.

    There is a poem I remember reciting as a kid whenever someone made a rhyme. How silly it is. Perhaps you can tell me the source.

    You’re a poet
    and you don’t know it
    but your feet show it
    They’re long fellows.

    1. In the very first draft of this post, Jim, that little bit of doggerel was in the introduction. I first heard it on the playground, too.

      The source seems hidden in the mists of history. At least, I couldn’t find a single source. But I did some looking when I thought I was going to use it, and I found it in a 1928 issue of “The Commonwealth Magazine,” and “The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics” says it was around at the turn of the 20th century, when the Fireside Poets (Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, and James Russell Lowell) were so much a part of the popular culture that their poetry was everywhere.

      As the entry says, “Readers who knew fireside poems by heart tended to take ownership of them, quoting or parodying them in a range of contexts from sermons to scrapbooks. By the turn of the 20th century, the Fireside Poets were an entrenched part of American popular culture; as one playground rhyme put it: “You’re a poet / and don’t know it / your feet show it / they’re long fellows.”

      Popular culture’s not what it used to be.

  5. Your post makes me realize I know so little of the USA, let alone of its poets, although I have devoured many books by many of the excellent writers that America has produced and still producing.

    Happy to read that ‘No Country for old Men’ is regarded as one of the best movies ever made.

    As for peace in this world. What can one say with what is happening in Aleppo?

    1. It’s the way of the world, Gerard. I knew almost nothing of either Australia or New Zealand until I started blogging, and met people from both countries. Now, I have a rough idea of the geography, some of the customs, and have been exposed to the arts there. While there’s certainly plenty to complain about (or avoid) when it comes to the internet, there’s much to celebrate, too.

      As for Aleppo, et alia; here’s a piece I appreciated. You might, too.

    1. If we could answer that, Terry, we’d have our place in history assured. One thing seems certain: the number and complexity of the reasons underlying violence and conflict make solutions difficult. If nothing else, the Christmas season might be useful as a reminder of what living in a world of peace could be like — if only we could stop fighting over how to celebrate the season!

  6. We owe much to these hardy men and women of our early history I thank you for the background and words of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Sentimental? Yes, but it is good to be “earthy” enough to appreciate words that touch the heart and finds commonality with all of us. Besides I appreciate poems that I understand. I think others do, too. Thanks again, Linda, for a great lesson.

    1. Before “sentimental” came to be widely understood as a little frothy and overdone, not to mention just slightly false, “sentiment” had a less fraught meaning of conveying emotion or feeling. In that sense, your “words that touch the heart” would be a fine definition of sentimental, and they certainly apply to much of Longfellow’s poetry.

      He wrote only one poem directly related to the death of his wife: “The Cross of Snow. It’s certainly filled with emotion, strong and direct, and it’s certainly a poem that can be easily understood. I don’t remember ever reading it before, but I’m glad I know the context now.

  7. Longfellow is one of my favorite American poets. To me, his style has a European quality, which may be partly to blame for his diminished standing. Nonetheless, I find his empathy and wisdom, talent for narrative, and interest in folklore still relevant today. Thanks for shedding some light on his personal sorrows and difficulties, as well as sharing this poem, very timely for the holiday season and the cynical times in which we live. Linda, I wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas.

    1. I didn’t realize that Longfellow spent so many years in Europe. He studied there as well as traveling, and settled down in Germany for a time to learn the language. At the time, he already spoke French and Spanish, but needed one more language for his degree in the States. So, off he went. I suspect his sensibilities and his writing both were shaped there: hence, the European quality.

      Don’t you think that talent for narrative helped hiim to gain a popularity others were unable to achieve? I read an assortment of poems written by the so-called Fireside Poets over the past week, and I must say that some of them seemed particular bloodless. Too cerebral, perhaps. On the other hand, much of their work assumes a familiarity with earlier literature and history that is in increasingly short supply.

      But never mind all that. His poem about the bells is lovely and hopeful, and a wonderful addition to the season. I hope your celebrations are filled with warmth and light — and perhaps even a bird or two!

      1. Linda, I didn’t know that he had spent much time in Europe. Perhaps that’s part of the reason he seems at times to me more “European” than other American poets of his time, and his stay there may in turn explain similarities in his poetic sensibilities to those writers “across the pond.” Happy holidays and a wonderful New Year!

        1. It’s worth pondering: that someone who did spend so much time in Europe, then returned for a respectable career in academia, still was able to speak as he did to what my folks always termed themselves — “the great unwashed.” Perhaps it was a natural result of academics having less contempt for people in general, and the general population having a greater respect for learning.

          Less contempt and more respect all around would be a good thing in this coming year. Merry Christmas to you!

    1. None of us can know everything, Sheryl. I just hope that if a reader already knows a bit (or a lot) about one of my topics (as you did with the bison), they still can be interested, and if they don’t, that they’ll be intrigued to learn more — or just enjoy what I’ve written.

      After all — sometimes all I know about a subject is that I’m curious. What I find out is what I share. I suspect it’s not unlike experimenting with a recipe and then posting it.

  8. Wow. There’s a flashback to the 60s with that Hamm’s ad!

    I never really paid much attention to Longfellow, but this post has reintroduced me. Very sad about Fanny. I will never listen to that song again in the same mindless way. Thank you for this post.

    1. Isn’t that a great ad? it’s amazing which jingles linger. I still can hear that Maxwell House coffee pot perking right along.

      I didn’t mention it, because it wasn’t directly relevant to the post, but Fanny was Longfellow’s second wife. His first, Mary Storer Potter, died of a miscarriage after only four years of marriage. It’s really remarkable what he endured through the years.

  9. Thank you for posting Mr Longfellow’s Christmas. We were often told when we were kids (and in a mess) that we looked like the wreck of the Hesperus! Which means Mr Longfellow’s influence was felt as far away as New Zealand and Fiji.

    I agree that the bells still ring; it’s just that it’s sometimes harder to hear them, literally and figuratively. Our nearest bells would have been heard very clearly when they were first installed. Now with all the noise pollution, we only hear them very faintly, if the wind is blowing in our direction. I love the video you selected. .

    1. Isn’t that funny! Here we were, half a world apart, being told by exasperated parents or others that we’d run up on the same shoals. Clearly, geographical divides can be less significant than generational divides. I’m not sure how many parents would use that phrase today, or how many kids would understand it.

      I started wondering whether your cathedral had bells, and what happened to them in the earthquake. I’m fairly well up to date now, and happy to see that the bells are back in Christchurch. I found the design proposed by the bell ringers for the shipping crate tower to be built next to the transitional cathedral. I was surprised by the bell ringers’ ages. It helps to explain their eagerness to have a tower — not only to keep their own skills honed, but to train new ringers.

      I found a photo of the bells, too, with a recording of change ringing in 1988. There’s so much online — even the testing of the tenor bell at the Taylor Bell Foundry. I suppose you’ve seen all this, but I thought it was fascinating — and hopeful!

        1. I enjoyed the post, and found Clanmother’s comment. It made me wonder what had been inscribed on the new bells purchased for an equally new bell tower at a congregation I once served. In fact, the smallest, tolling bell, is inscribed “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men,” and is attributed to Longfellow. I noticed in this article that the writer got the name of the poem wrong, although the date is right.

          I’ve heard those bells a few times, but I’d moved on by the time they were dedicated. The church is at the edge of the Rice Campus, and in one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Houston. As far as I know, there haven’t been any squabbles over the bells — and the congregation does love to hear them ring.

          1. Oh, how lovely. Made me feel a bit weepy reading the inscriptions. Silly me, but the care and love which goes into their choosing, their making, and their ringing moves me greatly.

            1. Beautiful. The Noack Bach organ certainly has good lungs. I will think of you enjoying the recital on Friday. It was fun to see the organist’s feet as well as hands in the video. It reminded me of a recent article in our Press about the new organ scholar at the Transitional Cathedral “It wasn’t exactly the love of music that first got him into this instrument – rather, it was his inability to sit still when he was a child.

              “I was always in trouble for fidgeting in school, and I’m convinced my ability to play the organ is just an extremely advanced form of fidgeting.” http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/christchurch-life/87090243/christ-church-cathedrals-new-organist-plays-it-low-key

            2. What a fun profile of your organist. When I saw his photo, I was reminded of the fellow who played Florence Foster Jenkins’s accompanist in the eponymous film. Simon Helberg is the actor’s name, but his name in the film was Cosme McMoon, which makes me laugh every time.

    2. I forgot to mention this. I was reading about Christmas customs and superstitions, and found that, in Poland, “until recently, harvest fortune-telling was very popular in the countryside. After supper, the host would go out to the garden, carrying dried fruit. He would throw it on the trees, shouting “Apples, pears, plums, cherries, and all the leaves in the neighbor’s yard.”

      I thought immediately about Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version of “A-Soulin’,” which has the line, “an apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry — any good thing to make us all merry.” It would be interesting to know if there’s any connection, since that line about the fruit doesn’t seem a natural part of the English song.

  10. The image at the top of your post would make a nice puzzle. Fire was a huge hazard back then, and a frequent cause of injury and death for women – their long petticoats being the culprit. Sad that for Longfellow, it caused the loss he could not put behind him.

    1. It would make a great puzzle, wouldn’t it? Have you ever had a puzzle made from a photo? I haven’t, but I know it can be done. You should get a good photo of the grands all together this year, have it made into a puzzle, then give it to them next year as a family gift.

      It’s easy to forget how dangerous life could be, even in the early 1900s — or as late as the 1940s in some places where electricity came late, and kerosene lamps were standard. It never would have occured to me that sealing wax could cause such a horror, but I’ve never used it.

      If you ever think life’s getting too complex, you can open this page and scroll down to the section on the etiquette of using seals, sealing wax, and wafers in the Victorian era, and you’ll feel better about things in no time.

      1. It is fun to get a puzzle made from a photo. We have a puzzle of the Grand Trio. They gave it to us for Christmas a couple of years ago. Might be time for another.

    1. It’s an amazing world, Becca. There is so much for us to enjoy and share — I’m glad to have you as an appreciative reader. Merry Christmas to you and your family, too – it’s hard to believe we’re nearly to a new year.

  11. This may be my year for Longfellow, Linda. This spring Peggy and I wandered along the Evangeline Trail in Nova Scotia. On Wednesday we will be in Boston and see Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church. As a child I memorized Paul Revere’s Ride and the beginning of Evangeline. The Hamm’s Beer jingle still runs around in the back of my mind as well. If my memory serves me correctly the tune was also incorporated into one of the early moving displays found in bars. –Curt

    1. The question is, are you going to drink a little Hamm’s while on your journey? I didn’t know it still was being produced, but it is. There’s limited distribution, though: primarily in the upper midwest.

      There’s a Hamm’s Collectors’ Club that has some of those signs for sale, along with every sort of hat, tee shirt, bar clock, and poster you could want. Maybe the next time a bear wanders through, you should offer him a Hamm’s. It looks like it might be a good way to strike up a friendship.

      1. Ever so long ago, I would have downed a Hamm’s or two, Linda, along with an Oly and Bud. Today my tastes are more toward micro-brews. I did have a bear get into my rum once, however. I still have the bottle with the tooth marks. Another time, one got into my beer. :) I had two Guinness Stout beers cooling in a river and a black bear came along and got one! Next he wanted some steaks I was cooking up… –Curt

        1. When I was trying to find out if Hamm’s still was for sale, I discovered you can purchase a 30-pak of 12 ounce cans for just $12.99. That tells me everything I need to know. I’ll stick with Shiner Bock, the Leinenkugul shandies — and almost anything from Houston’s St. Arnold brewery. The names are as enticing as the beers are tasty: Fancy Lawnmower, Ale Wagger, Pumpkinator, Sailing Santa. The brewery tours are fun, too.

  12. While I have loved Longfellow forever. I am one modern day poetry lover who always kept his work in a special part of my heart. Given that though I never read his biography or was aware of his great sorrows. I do recall that Edgar Allen Poe, some say our first real poetry critic, did not appreciate Longfellow and heavily criticized. But, some say from professional jealousy as Longfellow was so loved and Poe with his dark imagery not as much. (PS I love dark imagery and thence Poe)

    Here if this large paste is ok, is another favourite Longfellow piece. While I do not know exactly when he wrote it, is much more positive on Life with all is strife and struggle…called A Psalm of Life…

    Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
    Life is but an empty dream!
    For the soul is dead that slumbers,
    And things are not what they seem.

    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.

    Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
    Is our destined end or way;
    But to act, that each to-morrow
    Find us farther than to-day.

    Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
    And our hearts, though stout and brave,
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
    Funeral marches to the grave.

    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.

    Let us, then, be up and doing,
    With a heart for any fate;
    Still achieving, still pursuing,
    Learn to labor and to wait.

    1. Judy, I didn’t realize there was a so-called Poe/Longfellow war until I was doing some reading for this post. Several pieces echoed your suggestion that Poe probably envied Longfellow because of his success, his social standing, and maybe even his agent. Of course, while Longfellow was more popular during their lifetimes, Poe gained in stature, and probably is more well-known today.

      “A Psalm of Life” was written in 1839. I know that only because I found a searchable database of Longfellow poems, provided by the Maine Historical Society.

      I was amused to find another of my mother’s favorite lines tucked inside the poem. She was given to intone “Life is real, life is earnest,” whenever teenaged drama needed a bit of ridiculing.

      On the other hand, this is an example of a poem that might have led Poe to say that Longfellow was a plagiarist: not in the sense of literally stealing material, but in the sense of drawing pretty heavily on commonplace, well-known material. Some lines that stand out are “Dust thou art, to dust returneth,” “Art is long, and time is fleeting,” “Let the dead Past bury its dead,” and “footprints on the sands of time.” Still, he’s placed those lines in a nice context, and I really do like the last stanza. That last line’s the kicker: learning to labor and to wait isn’t the easiest thing in the world.

      If you’re traveling this Christmas, be safe, and keep that camera handy!

      1. As it happens I did read the biography of Edgar Allen Poe so his was more compelling for me. I do not think the beauty of his lines has ever been surpassed and he was unique and brilliant. Although he did have his critics. I remember one critic said he sat lightly on his classics. As I recall he is credited with many firsts…father of modern criticism, father of science fiction (I am in the Mary Shelley Frankenstein camp though on that), father of murder mysteries…I know I am being a little loose on the memory.

        The way I feel about Poe doesn’t really take away from Longfellow though. Different things. I always give credit to the ones who are called popularizers because they are the ones that awaken interest in science, poetry etc. Plus, trite, overused or commonplace, not everyone can string them together so charmingly or touch your heart and make you want to be a better person. Longfellow is a good storyteller and who wouldn’t want him for a grandfather!! :) I was exposed to Psalm of Life at such an early age that I probably thought he originated those phrases!! You are saying he didn’t? :)

        1. The first Poe I remember is “Annabelle Lee.” I loved that poem. Later, of course, the “tintinabulation” of the bells showed up in the classroom, and “The Raven.” But I confess that I found “The Tell-Tale Heart” flat creepy, along with some of his other writings. I never became a fan of “Frankenstein,” either. Of course, I was one of those who was scared to death by the dancing brooms and mops in Disney’s “Fantasia.” Sensitive child, I was.

          I did find something amazing this morning while I was refreshing myself on some aspects of Poe’s life. While his cause of death never has been determined with certainty, one possible cause was cooping — a particularly nasty form of voter fraud and intimidation. At least we seem to have moved beyond that!

          As for those commonplace phrases, he wasn’t the only one to draw on sources from the past.”Let the dead Past bury its dead” is a nice reworking of the Biblical verse — a verse that may have influenced Sandburg in his “Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind,” when he wrote:

          “My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
          What of it? Let the dead be dead.”

          Then again, it might have been Poe who influenced Sandburg.

          1. I love Annabelle Lee too. The Raven I grew to appreciate more with maturity. When I was first exposed to it I didn’t entirely get the relentless pacing into madness. Well Frankenstein is interesting to me from the standpoint of creation and suffering and that it was written by the wife of the poet who dealt with Prometheus, creation and suffering. Plus I was fascinated by her being a child listening to Coleridge in her home reciting The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The literary climate of her life and her surprising writing are what makes it all surreal to me. But, she is credited with first sci-fi.

  13. I never knew Longfellow penned this beautiful poem that became a Christmas song, Linda. Thank you for educating me! I suppose some would say, the more things change the more they stay the same. Every age has had its challenges.

    How lucky you were to fall asleep to your mother or dad’s voice reciting verse! That sounds just about perfect to me. I read to little Domer every night (and when he was a baby, I sang to him … until his pediatrician advised me not to, or I’d develop a habit hard to break). My folks taught us kids to read early and from then on, they didn’t read much to us. Probably caught up in other things, but I feel somehow cheated!

    1. When it comes to challenges, they never stop. I suppose every generation thinks their time is the worst, but I’ve never been one for rating or ranking horrors. Our civil war, WWI, the civil war in Liberia, ethnic cleansings in various parts of Africa — we could keep the list going forever. What too many people seem willing to do is point to far-away horrors, while refusing to treat their neighbor or co-worker decently. Remember the old camp song — “Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin With Me”? There’s some wisdom, there.

      Your comment about reading to Domer, and how your folks didn’t do it so much after you’d learned to read, made me wonder about something I’ve never given any thought. When I was growing up, reading aloud was more than a parent/child thing. My grandparents and neighbors would read to us, too. Teachers in grade school read aloud every day — at least through 4th grade. Dad would read the newspaper to Mom while she cooked breakfast, and I’d read aloud in the car when we were traveling.

      The point? We didn’t need audiobooks, because we were the “audio.” And there’s another example of the isolating effect of social media. When everyone’s listening to their own podcast or audio book, everyone else is shut out. When we read aloud to one another, anyone can join the circle, and be a part. Another reason to prefer the old ways.

        1. I think that’s true, even though I continued to hate reading aloud in class all the way through grade school. I got over it eventually, but it took time — and a lot of reading at home.

    1. Many in England admired him in the past. His bust is included in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, right next to Geoffrey Chaucer’s. Sculpted by Sir Thomas Brock, it was unveiled in 1884 and inscribed:

      “LONGFELLOW. This bust was placed amongst the memorials of the poets of England by the English admirers of an American poet. 1884. Born at Portland, U.S.A. February 27th 1807. Died at Cambridge, U.S.A. March 24th 1882”.

      His ancestor, William Longfellow, emigrated from Yorkshire to New England in 1676. I suspect William would have been proud to see Henry return to England in such a way.

  14. Poets often are the most emotionally fragile of writers, composers, and artists. They have some of the highest rates of suicide, drug abuse, misery and suffering.

    For 20 years, each of my 90 Honors English students would select an American poet to report on. Each eager student, hoping that an A grade would help their college applications, chose a poet, a 100-line poem to recite, a vignette to act out, and pertinent biographical details to share. If the poet’s body of work consisted of short poems,they recited 15 poems, counting the lines to 100.

    As you can imagine, over the course of those 20 years, I learned a great deal about the lives of so many poets. ( I also learned how determined young students can be…)

    I was amazed at the depth of the tragedies American poets suffered–some external and self-inflicted and others, internal, often caused by factors beyond their control.

    Longfellow, as you have so thoroughly researched, was no exception.

    1. I think the key word in your first paragraph is “often.” The examples of great creativity in the midst of suffering are well-known, and inspiring. Sometimes, as with Longfellow, they’re surprising when we find them.

      On the other hand, some of my own favorite poets have endured great suffering, but have also managed to avoid a variety of pitfalls, ranging from obsessive self-regard to mindless self-destruction.

      There’s a myth that only the mad or the miserable can be creative, and that’s led a good many would-be artists to cling to emotional turmoil (alcohol, drugs, failed relationships, a million excuses) as proof of creativity. My own view? I think T.S. Eliot pegged it when he said, “The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink.” I just don’t think it’s necessary to slit our wrists to get the blood.

      1. I agree with you for the most part and I can only comment on this topic as it relates to American literature. If one were to study the great American novelists of the 19th and 20th centuries, one would find only a few of those individuals led “normal” lives. I believe that out of 50-60 writers who lived in those centuries only William Dean Howells (The Father of American Realism) seemed to live a regular life. The others–from Melville, Hawthorne, Crane, Dreiser, Twain, Chopin, Wharton, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Mailer, Capote, Heller, Hellman,…all struggled. Arthur Miller, playwright extraordinaire was fairly normal.

        1. If we could sit down to discuss this over a nice glass of wine, I think we’d find we’re not exactly opposed. I certainly wouldn’t deny that all of those writers struggled, but there’s a difference between normal struggles and the sort of thing I’m talking about. I need to think about it more. In the meantime — I’m looking forward to a new year of your posts, and wish all of us fewer struggles in 2017.

  15. I remember having studied “Paul Revere’s Ride“, it must have been in college. I now know there’s a monument of Paul Revere in Boston, Massachusetts, with the Old North Church visible in the background. Beautiful poetry indeed.

    1. I’ve never been to Boston, or the Northeast generally, but the Old North Church is one of the things I’d enjoy visiting. There’s nothing quite like seeing a literary reference as a historical fact to make things come alive. I suppose part of Longfellow’s gift was that he could make alive things he’d never seen, but only imagined, even though in some cases, like this poem, the words grew out of all-too-real painful experiences.

      1. The Old North Church was also known as the Christ Church in the City of Boston, and it is the location from which the famous “One if by land, and two if by sea” signal is said to have been sent. This phrase is related to Paul Revere’s midnight ride, of April 18, 1775, which preceded the Battles of Lexington and Concord during the American Revolution. The Old North Church was built in December, 1723. I took American history course and I like reviewing some of the events.

        1. I have a friend who delights in pointing out various historical inaccuracies in poems like “Paul Revere’s Ride.” i just roll my eyes and make my own argument: that history and literature are different, and if a poet wants to rearrange things a bit, for effect, it’s fine by me.

          Besides, “Paul Revere’s Ride” was a rollicking good poem to memorize. When we were in grade school, any poem that began, “Listen, my children, and you shall hear…” seemed to have been written just for us. With a first line like that, what kid wouldn’t want to know more?

  16. I love that carol, and Christmas bells, and Longfellow. I think I will check to make sure I included his carol in our family’s homemade collection. Thank you for the stories. He was a dear man.

    1. I’m so glad I included a post about one of your favorite carols. I have another “bells” post that I’ve been trying to get written for three years which I’m sure you’ll enjoy, too — but it seems it will have to wait until next year. If I’m smart (which I’m not, always) I’ll write it now, in the midst of the season, and simply tuck it away — like an early-purchased gift.

      Singing carols at Christmas always was a part of our celebrations, and I miss that: especially the door-to-door caroling. I love a good Christmas novelty song as much as anyone, but the traditional carols are heart-warming.

  17. As I sit here in my study, just three feet to the right is a bookcase and on that is a volume: ‘The poetical works of Longfellow’, Leather Bound dated 1921. The inscription on the inside of the leather cover reminds me that this was given to Raymond Hooker (my father) as the 5th form School Prize in the summer of 1924 when he was a pupil aged 14 at Southgate County School – a suburb of North London.
    It includes ‘Christmas Bells’ and much else including, of course, Hiawatha and stretched to over 800 pages.

    1. There’s so much to enjoy in your comment, Andy: a leatherbound book, the choice of an American poet for a British prize, the very fact that competitions and prizes existed (may their number increase!) and — best of all — that your father won the prize and passed it on to you as an heirloom. I think with that story you could win the book vs. e-reader argument with no trouble at all.

      I didn’t know until I wrote this post that Longfellow’s bust is in the Poets’ Corner at Westminster. Clearly, his work was more a part of British life than I’ve ever realized. It’s a delightful realization.

  18. I’d never heard the story behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’, though I vaguely recall that it was based on a Longfellow poem. It was always one of my favorites.

    I, too, remember having to memorized portions of Longfellow’s poems (among others) in school. Do they even do that these days?

    1. I’ve always loved all the carols having to do with bells — and my favorite Christmas popular song is “Silver Bells.” Of course, I remember one of the original recordings, with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. I’m not sure how I feel about that, other than old.

      I don’t know where things stand now with memorization. I know some home-schooled kids who do it, and there are a couple of private schools here where it still happens. I did a quick google search, and it looks like the grand gurus of education have decided that memorization is non grata these days. “Just memorizing” apparently precludes understanding. I suppose that means no more memorizing arithmetic tables, either. All I know is that I can multiply, add, subtract, and divide in my head, and that much of that early poetry still comes to mind. It’s good enough for me.

      I thought of you the other day. When I was looking for information about Fanny Longfellow, I came across a blog about Civil War women. I noticed this post about Beaufort. There might be even more about South Carolina in her blog. I haven’t explored that.

  19. Longfellow… I knew him, no, I knew his some of poems and his name. But now, I learned so much about him, and his poetry… How amazing writer you are, dear Linda! Thank you, I enjoyed so much. Merry Christmas for you and for your country. Love & Hugs, nia

    1. He was a good and kind man, I think, and his poetry always made me happy. I’m glad you enjoyed learning more about him, Nia.
      I wish peace for you and your country, too. These are hard days, but always there are blessings. And a new — perhaps better — year is coming!

    1. Merry Christmas to you, Brig! I’m glad you enjoyed this little bit of Christmas. Though not entirely cheerful, I think it points to some important truths about the season that can get lost beneath all the trappings. I’ll certainly hear one of my favorite Christmas songs differently from this point forward.

  20. I never knew that about Longfellow’s beard. Did all of this really come from you thinking about your cereal box drum? I’m always amazed by the topics you choose to write about. They’re always so very fascinating.

    It’s such a sad story about Fanny, though.

    1. Actually, this post is rooted in a search through YouTube about three years ago. I was looking for a decent version of an entirely different song when I found the video I included here. I was surprised by the bit of history included — which I knew nothing about. So, it’s been lingering in my files since then, just waiting.

      The post I intended to write — the one that will include the old pop song, “Silver Bells,” is still lingering. I keep running out of Christmas season. This year, I’m getting smart. I’m going to get at least a first draft completed before the New Year, and tuck it away for next season.

      I’m debating moving to a new template on January 1. I’ve loved this theme, and I’ve been reluctant to change, since it’s a legacy theme and I can’t get it back if I let it go. Still… it’s not the best theme for photos, and it’s not designed to be viewed on multiple devices. Such an earth-shaking decision! We’ll see if I have the courage to change!

      Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the New Year, Ariel. And by the way, speaking of change: I just was sitting here trying to remember your “old” name. I can’t. That makes me laugh.

    1. “Tales of a Wayside Inn” is Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” American style. I found a wonderful reading here. I think it will be the perfect accompaniment to cookie baking tonight.

      I enjoyed roaming the Inn’s website; thanks for reminding me you visited there. I was particularly amused by their missing property amnesty program.. If it works for library books, why not for historical artifacts?

      A blessed Christmas to you and yours, Arti. Perhaps this year will be more peaceful and less stressful — personally and otherwise.

    1. That was my experience. For years — decades — sung the carol or read the verses with the unhappy lines excised. It’s so much better to have the whole poem to ponder. And, now that I know the history, it’s even more meaningful. I’m glad you enjoyed it, too.

  21. A great message for this season. How easy it is to be cynical, and what a mark of true courage to hold forth hope in the midst of such personal and social tragedy. May his tribe increase.

    1. It took me a while to find the source for this Longfellow quotation. It turned out to be from “Drift-wood,” a collection of his prose works published in 1857. He wrote: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

      It’s quite an insight from a man whose own deepest sufferings were yet to come. But there’s truth there, however hard it seems to believe in today’s highly charged atmosphere. We could use more Longfellow, and not only for “Hiawatha.”

  22. You point out the complexity of life – it’s not simply good or bad, but a thorny mix that challenges anyone who thinks past simplistic dichotomies. I can’t help but think this poem was written in a time when people saw the complexities, and accepted them, more readily than today. Certainly in the midst of that war it must have been very hard to see “all good” or “all evil” anywhere – there were so many contradictions, so much pain and hope. Anyway, it seems that way from this perspective.

    This was an interesting post, my friend, all news to me (I’m not a good history student), and appreciated – particularly from the viewpoint of having watched my mother die on Christmas morning 17 years ago – ever since, the day is fraught with a tight weave of contradictory emotions.

    1. I’ve always been a both/and kind of person. I even have the choice between either/or and both/and on my About page, under the section called Basic Life Choices.

      It makes sense to me in so many ways. The saint/sinner business is a good example. It’s so tempting to say “those people” over there are the sinners, while we, of course, are the saints. In truth, we’re all both: only the proportion differs, and it can change from day to day.

      You can see the same thing playing out in a different context with conservative/liberal. Many liberals hold some very traditional values, and there are conservatives who agree on certain issues with the most liberal of their friends. It’s a little ironic that a book called “Fifty Shades of Grey” sold so well in a country that seems unwilling to accept even one. :-)

      I can imagine how difficult your mother’s death at Christmas must have been. Pain eases with time, but certain events always are with us, and when a special day is marked by loss, that loss is going to resonate for a long, long time.

  23. Linda, I never knew this story. And the video (and the music in it) is breathtaking.

    I didn’t know about the daughters, the son, the sadness. Of course, I’ve known Longfellow’s work forever. (We always say in Michigan we live on the Shores of Gitchee-goomey (sp) but we probably don’t!). And I knew he wrote “I heard the Bells” but I had no idea about the missing verses, which especially make sense in a time like the one in which we live. I wish they were more often heard.

    This post also brought back a fond memory of wandering through the Sudbury MA area while Rick was trade-showing and coming upon the Wayside Inn (Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, to be specific, I think — it was a few years ago). It was winter and beautiful. I wish I had dined there. Just because. So thanks for that!

    Peace on Earth.

    1. Arti mentioned that she visited the Wayside Inn on her swing through the northeast. Perhaps you’ll have a chance to return; I hope so. In my response to her, I linked to this great reading of “Tales of a Wayside Inn.” Trust me — it makes great listening while beginning the transition from Christmas to the New Year.

      I was surprised by those missing verses, too, and by the biographical details I didn’t know. Perhaps I didn’t pay attention in class that day. But I’m glad to know the story now. It certainly enriches my appreciation for the song. This musical setting is new to me, too. I grew up hearing this version, which probably is familiar to you.

      There are so many stories underlying our celebrations — I’m glad to have unearthed this one, and glad you enjoyed it.

    1. That is funny, isn’t it? Professional jealousy can be a particularly nasty form of the disease.

      I’m glad you found the details I unearthed interesting. Amid all the sadness I uncovered, I enjoyed discovering that his bust is in the Poets’ Corner at Westminster, and that he’s next to Chaucer. It seems fitting, since Longfellow’s “Tales of a Wayside Inn” owes a bit to “The Canterbury Tales”.

  24. I didn’t know anything about Henry Longfellow before I read your post. Probably just goes to show how little I know about the world, really. But I thoroughly enjoyed your read. Thank you for once again expanding my knowledge, Linda.

    1. None of us can know everything, Otto. What I know about Norway can be pretty much be summed up by “has fjords, reindeer, the world’s best sweaters, aquavit, Ibsen, and Sigrid Undset.” Of course there’s much, much more to the country than that.

      One advantage I think good blogging has over “just writing” is that we have the opportunity to learn about things we’d otherwise never discover on our own. So, I’m glad you enjoyed bumping into the good Mr. Longfellow. He was a wonderful storyteller, but since he’s a bit out of favor these days, it’s up to old fossils like me to bring him out and dust him off from time to time!

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