Happy Birthday Henry Wadsworth Longfellow!
Today is the birthday of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow born 1807 Portland, Maine USA. Longfellow’s roots lie originally in Yorkshire England. The Longfellow’s arrived in America in 1676. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a scholar and linguist, he travelled through many countries to learn about its people. He was a professor of Bowdoin, contributed travel sketches to the New England magazine and translated Old World literature. In 1822 he became a college professor and in 1834 was appointed a professorship in Harvard. The journey through Europe ended with his wife’s death and Longfellow arrived alone at Cambridge England to take up his new professorship. He stayed at Craigie House. The house was to become important to him, as he married the owner’s relative and the house was eventually bequeathed to them. Although the poet’s marriages were happy, both wives died tragically. Longfellow immersed himself in his work translating Dante into English.
In 1854 the poet resigned from teaching at Harvard and began his most famous poem ‘The Song of Hiawatha’, which he researched by meeting with an Ojibway chief who provided the background to the poem. The poem starts with Hiawatha’s birth (by the shores of Gitche Gumee and the Big White Spirit Gitche Matino telling his people to live in peace. The story ends with the arrival of the white man and the death of Hiawatha.
The graceful way that Longfellow uses his poetry and the sing song effect, almost mimic the way in which birds sing, made the poet and his poetry very popular. He was also one of the first poets to write poetry about the Native Americans.
The poem caused a lot of excitement and drew attention to indian themes as a source of inspiration and imagination.
The song on the video is from Mike Oldfield’s Incantations (1978). The beautiful voice singing the poem belongs to Maddy Prior
An except from the Song of Hiawatha;-
By the shore of Gitchie Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning,
Hiawatha stood and waited.
All the air was full of freshness,
All the earth was bright and joyous,
And before him through the sunshine,
Westward toward the neighboring forest
Passed in golden swarms the Ahmo,
Passed the bees, the honey-makers,
Burning, singing in the sunshine.
Bright above him shown the heavens,
Level spread the lake before him;
From its bosom leaped the sturgeon,
Aparkling, flashing in the sunshine;
On its margin the great forest
Stood reflected in the water,
Every tree-top had its shadow,
Motionless beneath the water.
From the brow of Hiawatha
Gone was every trace of sorrow,
As the fog from off the water,
And the mist from off the meadow.
With a smile of joy and triumph,
With a look of exultation,
As of one who in a vision
Sees what is to be, but is not,
Stood and waited Hiawatha….
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Video from scimmiadigiada
Music from Mike Oldfield’s Incantations, 1978 sang by Maddy Prior
Everything you could wish to know about The Song of Hiawatha here
Native American words from the languages can be found here
Lots of interesting information, outlining the poets life here
Book image from here
Hiawatha illustration here
Poem except here