Biography on Henry Longfellow Term Paper

Pages: 2 (623 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature

Longfellow Biography

Irmscher, Christoph. Longfellow Redux. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press,

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American literary icon when he was alive. Schoolchildren were asked to memorize his immortal poetic classic "The Song of Hiawatha" as part of their education and there was even a drink called the "Hiawatha" in memory of the Indian warrior of Longfellow's poem. While Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass struggled to sell even a few copies, Longfellow's first printing of his Indian epic was an immediate success. "Longfellow was, for a time America's, if not the world's, most widely recognized poet" writes Christoph Irmscher in his biography Longfellow Redux (11).

This book attempts to examine the cultural implications of Longfellow's legacies as a poet and American icon, showing all of Longfellow's personal and poetic imperfections while still paying tribute to what made Longfellow popular, and a popular influence on later writers. Irmscher paints a compelling picture of the 19th century popular cultural environment that produced Longfellow. While Walt Whitman wrote about the people, Longfellow's pulsating, conventional rhyme scheme combined with its strikingly unfamiliar and exotic imagery was beloved by the people (23).

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A substantial portion of the book Longfellow Redux is devoted to the inspiration and creation of Longfellow's famous poem "Hiawatha." The poem was a sentimental, and to modern eyes, exotic view of Native Americans as pure people, untouched by civilization. It exemplified the Romantic nature worship of the New England Transcendentalist movement. "Unconcerned about ethnographic fact," Longfellow's poem "combined several stories shared by various tribes" (106). At best one could call the poem "cheerfully eclectic," at worst critics have noted that it copies narrative structures from Western stories of heroes, rather than native sources (107). It a celebrated native life while rendering America's original people exotic and foreign, yet familiar in a way that denied their unique traditions.

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