Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Poems and Other Writings

J. D. McClatchy, Editor, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Author Library of America $35 (825p) ISBN 978-1-883011-85-7
""By the shore of Gitchee Gumee,/ By the shining Big-Sea-Water..."" Between the Civil War and the Great Depression, Longfellow (1807-1882) was America's best-loved poet. An audience so broad it's now hard to imagine enjoyed his well-told, metrically innovative narrative poems, like The Song of Hiawatha; schoolchildren memorized, and adults enjoyed, his accessible, often sententious lyric verse. Longfellow's vast and various output also included many translations of Dante and other European poets, verse-drama and a collection of shorter narratives, Tales of a Wayside Inn. (In his day job at Harvard, he helped invent the study of comparative literature.) In search of a new audience for Longfellow, editor McClatchy, a poet and critic himself (Ten Commandments; Twenty Questions), has rightly assembled a very generous selection, including all Longfellow's most famous poems, and all his best (they're not the same). Here are Hiawatha, Evangeline, The Courtship of Miles Standish and ""The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."" Here, too, are some surprisingly powerful lyric and meditative poems--well made, deeply felt, and not much like the schoolhouse favorites. Among them are the ambitious, fast-moving ""K ramos,"" which follows a potter's wheel around the world; metrical complexities like ""The Rope-Walk"" and ""Snow-Flakes""; and the grief-charged sonnet ""The Cross of Snow,"" about his long-dead wife. Longfellow's longtime residence in New England gave him a special gift for nautical themes--his poems about ships, sailing and the sea range from quick mood pieces to political allegories. Translations--an important part of his work--are also well represented. And historically minded readers will seek out his antislavery poems and his later verse on the Civil War. Near the end of the volume comes his nearly plotless--but thoroughly charming--Maine novella, Kavanagh. Though he may never regain his onetime prestige, Longfellow at his best was more fun, smarter, deeper, and a better craftsman than readers nowadays imagine; this hefty volume may finally let them know. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/28/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
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