Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (born February 27, 1807 – died March 24, 1882) was an American poet of the Romantic period. He served as a professor at Harvard University and was an adept linguist, traveling throughout Europe and immersing himself in European culture and poetry, which he emulated in his poetry. Before television, radio, and film, he rose to become not just the leading poet and literary figure of 19th-century America, but also an American icon and household name.   


10 Greatest Poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

by Satyananda Sarangi

Picking just 10 is a tricky equation when it concerns the works of a poet as prolific as Longfellow. From being a cornerstone of American poetry and culture to being the most widely read poet in his lifetime, he dared to establish this very fact that Romanticism wasn’t confined to Europe (or British poets to be precise). With numerous translations from various languages, such as Spanish, German, and Italian, his popularity was perhaps something that any poet could only dream of.

It is an uphill task to compile his best ten, since many of his celebrated pieces like Paul Revere’s Ride, The Song of Hiawatha, Evangeline – A Tale of Acadie, The Wreck of the Hesperus, The Building of the Ship and My Lost Youth are long. For simplicity and convenience, I have stuck to his English poems that run not more than 60 lines.

Here goes the list:

 

10. “Haunted Houses” (1858)

All houses wherein men have lived and died
__Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
__With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the doorway, on the stair,
__Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
__A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table, than the hosts
__Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
__As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
__The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
__All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
__Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
__And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
__Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapors dense
__A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
__By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
__And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
__Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star,
__An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
__Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
__Into the realm of mystery and night,–

So from the world of spirits there descends
__A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
__Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

 

Written at a time when he was already renowned, Longfellow showcases his brilliance and versatility in what seems a ghostly poem at first. But then subtlety takes over and the reader is introduced to how psychic phenomena and worldly desires may go hand in hand. The salient feature of this discussion is the gradual shift from after-world powers to how they govern the ambitions and aspirations of mortals. Quite strange it appears, yet the mention of ‘unseen planet’ and ‘ undiscovered planet’ further stress that uncanny forces may have had some role in the choices we make in this real world. A vivid imagery towards the end where ‘the moonlight is perceived to be a bridge’ turns out to be the icing on the cake. The poet is quite brave in pulling this off. Keeping in mind his inclination to romantic and sentimental works, he is aware of what he is best at.

 

9. “The Rainy Day” (1842)

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

 

How often has one come across a Longfellow poem that speaks of hope and optimism after taking us through gloomy lanes and cloudy circumstances? Relatively young at the time of this publication, the poet prefers the lines to be conveyed from the viewpoint of an old, ageing person pondering over his past and youth. Drawing a parallel between life and a bleak day works out well where the ‘vine’ symbolises ‘thoughts’ and ‘dead leaves’ are helpless as is the lost youth. A major portion of the poem relies on metaphorical effect, quite clearly an inherent skill of great Romantic bards. The closing quintain is a boost – everyone is put through rough patches to be able to win ; the universal anthem being that adversity (referred to as the rain) is inevitable and is the mother of success, for the lessons of ‘dark days’ are what bear the bright ones.

 

8. “Nature” (1878)

As a fond mother, when the day is o’er,
Leads by the hand her little child to bed,
Half willing, half reluctant to be led,
And leave his broken playthings on the floor,
Still gazing at them through the open door,
Nor wholly reassured and comforted
By promises of others in their stead,
Which, though more splendid, may not please him more;
So Nature deals with us, and takes away
Our playthings one by one, and by the hand
Leads us to rest so gently, that we go
Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,
Being too full of sleep to understand
How far the unknown transcends the what we know.

 

The universal truth of ‘death’ has been used as a touching subject time and again. However, monotony looms large but what stand out here are the uniqueness and the well thought out lines by a rather growing old poet. In fact this piece is a metaphor in its entirety and deserves a place in all time death poems alongside Donne’s ‘Death Be Not Proud’ and Shirley’s ‘Death – The Leveller’. In the format of the Italian sonnet (or Petrarchan sonnet) with a simple rhyme, the act of a mother taking her child to bed has been compared to how nature takes each of us to death. In both the actions, one seems reluctant – considering how a child wishes to play even at late night and how life wishes to continue even when one is too old. The ‘playthings’ are the bonds we share, the ‘rest’ is death that sneaks in and our ‘so gentle’ departure, an unsolved mystery in itself.

 

7. “The Cross of Snow” (1879)

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face—the face of one long dead—
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

 

In the words of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, ‘Poetry comes from the highest happiness or the deepest sorrow’; ‘The Cross of Snow’ being an expression of the latter. Simple yet striking, straight forward and drawn from a real life of hardships and mishaps, this sonnet goes down as one of his memorable tributes to Frances Appleton, his deceased wife and the portrayal of his sadness owing to her absence. Much pivotal to the emotional aspects are ‘sleepless’, ‘halo of pale light’ and ‘gentle face’. The reason of her death referred to as ‘ martyrdom of fire’ and the comparison between the natural landscape’s cross and the cross of Christ donned by the poet himself lend a powerful emotional quotient to the poem – a characteristic of most of his serious poetry in later life. Delving further into the reference made to ‘the cross’, ‘cross’ depicts the poet’s longing, seen as a lifelong burden that he has to bear.

 

6. “The Ladder of St. Augustine” (1858)

Saint Augustine! well hast thou said,
__That of our vices we can frame
A ladder, if we will but tread
__Beneath our feet each deed of shame!
All common things, each day’s events,
__That with the hour begin and end,
Our pleasures and our discontents,
__Are rounds by which we may ascend.
The low desire, the base design,
__That makes another’s virtues less;
The revel of the ruddy wine,
__And all occasions of excess;
The longing for ignoble things;
__The strife for triumph more than truth;
The hardening of the heart, that brings
__Irreverence for the dreams of youth;
All thoughts of ill; all evil deeds,
__That have their root in thoughts of ill;
Whatever hinders or impedes
__The action of the nobler will;—
All these must first be trampled down
__Beneath our feet, if we would gain
In the bright fields of fair renown
__The right of eminent domain.
We have not wings, we cannot soar;
__But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more,
__The cloudy summits of our time.
The mighty pyramids of stone
__That wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen, and better known,
__Are but gigantic flights of stairs.
The distant mountains, that uprear
__Their solid bastions to the skies,
Are crossed by pathways, that appear
__As we to higher levels rise.
The heights by great men reached and kept
__Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
__Were toiling upward in the night.
Standing on what too long we bore
__With shoulders bent and downcast eyes,
We may discern—unseen before—
__A path to higher destinies.
Nor deem the irrevocable Past,
__As wholly wasted, wholly vain,
If, rising on its wrecks, at last
__To something nobler we attain.

 

Finally, we arrive at one such poem that gives the impression of the typical Longfellow verse – inspiring with lofty ideals that lift the spirit no matter what. The whole of this, if summarised, is a clarion call for rising to the occasion, employing symbols that are not at all imaginative but truths encountered through life. Beginning from what St. Augustine has preached in Christianity, the poet lays out the negative qualities of man, ultimately resulting in hindrances to his betterment by the usage of ‘longing for ignoble things’, ‘strife for triumph more than truth ‘and ‘all occasions of excess’. The magnificent imagery is taken good care of by ‘cloudy summits of our time’, ‘gigantic flights of stairs’ and ‘solid bastions to the skies’ – the predictable manner in which the poet makes very fine use of poetic devices. The clear message delivered is that we need to have patience to pursue our goals; for Rome was not built in a day.

“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.”

Moreover, this quatrain continues to be one of the most popular even today.

 

5. “Excelsior” (1842)

The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,
__Excelsior!

His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,
__Excelsior!

In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,
__Excelsior!

“Try not the Pass!” the old man said;
“Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!
And loud that clarion voice replied,
__Excelsior!

“Oh stay,” the maiden said, “and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast!”
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But still he answered, with a sigh,
__Excelsior!

“Beware the pine-tree’s withered branch!
Beware the awful avalanche!”
This was the peasant’s last Good-night,
A voice replied, far up the height,
__Excelsior!

At break of day, as heavenward
The pious monks of Saint Bernard
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,
A voice cried through the startled air,
__Excelsior!

A traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,
__Excelsior!

There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell, like a falling star,
__Excelsior!

 

From the ‘Ballads and Other Poems’, this short poem is obvious at the surface, though it caters to a very different idea. It possesses a deviation from typical ‘aim higher’ themes that have been the poet’s speciality as seen in the previous poem. ‘Excelsior’ – a Latin word meaning ‘still higher’ is somewhat the engine that drives the plot; its repetition after every stanza points towards a ‘warning’ bell to the protagonist (a young man) as well as to every reader. The description captures the mammoth task ahead of the young mountaineer by phrases such as ‘snow and ice’, ‘tempest overhead’, ‘the roaring torrent’ and ‘the awful avalanche’. Although he is shown as brave and steadfast in his vision, the successive warnings issued to him by an old man, a maiden and then the peasant convince us that the errand is way too much. Often in life, we take a hard stance on matters and the realisation comes when all’s done and dusted. Determination and perseverance are essential, but a wise person knows where to draw the line; the ending quatrain is just like the consolation we may have to ourselves. Now, what is more appealing about ‘Excelsior’ is its tone, a complete contrast to the tone in ‘The Ladder of St. Augustine’. However, as one may notice, the ill of ‘the strife for triumph more than truth’ from the latter is a similarity between the two poems. As a matter of fact, ‘Excelsior’ continues to be a widely anthologised piece.

 

4. “The Reapers and the Flowers” (1839)

There is a Reaper, whose name is Death,
__And, with his sickle keen,
He reaps the bearded grain at a breath,
__And the flowers that grow between.

“Shall I have naught that is fair?” saith he;
__“Have naught but the bearded grain?
Though the breath of these flowers is sweet to me,
__I will give them all back again.”

He gazed at the flowers with tearful eyes,
__He kissed their drooping leaves;
It was for the Lord of Paradise
__He bound them in his sheaves.

“My Lord has need of these flowerets gay,”
__The Reaper said, and smiled;
“Dear tokens of the earth are they,
__Where He was once a child.

“They shall all bloom in fields of light,
__Transplanted by my care,
And saints, upon their garments white,
__These sacred blossoms wear.”

And the mother gave, in tears and pain,
__The flowers she most did love;
She knew she should find them all again
__In the fields of light above.

Oh, not in cruelty, not in wrath,
__The Reaper came that day;
‘T was an angel visited the green earth,
__And took the flowers away.

 

Throughout the narration, there hasn’t been any direct reference to the characters and events. A young Longfellow is more than adept at personification – this is what takes us by surprise and despite very loose meter, ‘The Reapers and the Flowers’ manages to break into the top five. When ‘Death’ is the reaper who takes along with him ‘the old’ otherwise shown as ‘bearded grains’ and sometimes even ‘flowers’ (the youth), one may predict how the poem would end. The mother, who represents the earth symbolically, is assured that her children (flowers) would find a better home in ‘fields of light above’ (heaven) and in spite of her love, she gives them away. However, the poet decides to render it a twist i.e. the reaper who took the flowers that day must’ve been some angel sent by God, as revealed in the last stanza. The greatest quality of this poem lies in its deeper layers of allegory. This short ballad is believed to point out yet another event from the poet’s life – the miscarriage suffered by his first wife, Mary Potter around that time. Having a basic meaning to itself, the figurative language elevates this piece to a higher level, for it paraphrases ‘Whom the Gods love, die young’.

 

3. “The Children’s Hour” (1863)

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.

A whisper, and then a silence:
__Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
__To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
__A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
__They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
__O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
__They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
__Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
__In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
__Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
__Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
__And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
__In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
__Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
__And moulder in dust away!

 

One often wonders how Longfellow comes up with such a merry, simple poem which he not only manages to write well, but also immortalises his three daughters by including them in it. This piece brings forth a welcome relief to readers and to the poet himself, as more serious poetry was what he was used to penning then. In the very first stanza, he refers to a brief period in the evening as ‘the children’s hour’ when he, otherwise occupied in his study, has some time to spare for his children. Seen as bit grave for most of the time, Longfellow lets the sweet and lovely father figure of himself take centerstage – unusual yet genuine in expressing his love. When Alice, Allegra and Edith hatch a plot to surprise him, he is aware of their footsteps but pretends otherwise. The mention of ‘Bishop of Bingen in his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine‘ emphasises the poet’s powerless condition for a short while; which he recovers from thereafter with the last and last but one quatrains. Struck by fatal tragedies during his lifetime, the poem in a part shows the poet’s insecurities – some of them hidden in lines:

But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

Nonetheless, ‘The Children’s Hour’ is a timeless work depicting paternal gesture.

 

2. “The Day is Done” (1845)

The day is done, and the darkness
__Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
__From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
__Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
__That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
__That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
__As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
__Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
__And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old masters,
__Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
__Through the corridors of Time.
For, like strains of martial music,
__Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
__And to-night I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet,
__Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
__Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who, through long days of labor,
__And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
__Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
__The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
__That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume
__The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
__The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music
__And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
__And as silently steal away.

 

‘The Day is Done’ may have a predictable title deemed sufficient to guess its content, though it isn’t so. Unlike many of his significant works based on folklore, legends and stories, this one is tailor-made for a particular occasion—to be read at the end of a tiring day along with poetry, but not from any famous poet’s collection. When most of Longfellow’s poems speak of generalised ideas applicable to common readers, this remains the odd one out. The arrival of dusk and darkness is obvious and unnoticed like the falling down of an eagle’s feather. The introductory lines set a dampening mood—perfectly synonymous to the mood after a long day’s work; further begetting a strange sadness within the narrator—sadness sans concrete reasons. The only way out from this depressing setting may come from listening to poetry. But soothing poems would fare better than popular ones, because they ought to be spontaneous like tears and rainfall in summer; this being evident from ‘some simple and heartfelt lay’, ‘from some humbler poet’ and ‘songs gushed from his heart’. Use of plain similes like ‘cares being tents like those of the Arabs’ and correlation between rain, mist, sadness and sorrow, renders a mighty rhythm and an unbelievable imagery. A tremendous flow, that is seldom interrupted, elevates this work to the second spot.

 

1. “A Psalm of Life” (1839)

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

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.

 

Anyone with a little interest in English poetry, must have had this poem etched into memory; hence no guesses about Longfellow’s best poem. Such is its evocative eloquence, such is its superior effect on every person regardless of class, religion and nationality that it transcends the boundaries of a mere song, and in the right sense, transforms into a psalm – a path to be followed for glorified and righteous life. Recited at Senate meetings, public gatherings and even at churches, this poem is sometimes speculated to have inspired Longfellow after he had come across a board in a German graveyard. Certainly his greatest, ‘Psalm of Life’ seems to have varied ideas where each quatrain is a guideline in itself.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!

These first two lines provide the impetus to how the rest of the poem is to proceed. And indeed, he is 100 percent true in conveying that instead of blaming life, one must work towards improving it by making judicious utilisation of our short lives.

Taking into account another stanza:

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!

I can faintly remember people around me quoting the above lines to lend support to one another while in distress. The central theme never deviates from the ‘don’t give up’ catch phrase. Much credit goes to ‘A Psalm of Life’ in enabling Longfellow to leave his ‘footprints on the sands of time’ even after almost two centuries have faded from when he wrote it.

I can bet that most of the poems that have made it to the list, would make it onto any Longfellow follower’s list of top ten (where the order can vary a thousand times for a thousand lists). Although the literary stardom of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has dwindled ever since the advent of 20th century, his legacy is as grand as his rise to fame.

 

An alumnus of IGIT Sarang, Satyananda Sarangi is a young poet who enjoys reading Longfellow, Shelley, Coleridge, Yeats and many others. His works have featured in Glass: Facets of Poetry, WestWard Quarterly, The GreenSilk Journal and other national magazines and books. He also loves electrical machines and renewable energy sources. Currently, he resides in Odisha, India.

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30 Responses

  1. Jerry Langdon

    H.W. Longfellow is one of the most influential poets. You not only picked one of the best but you picked the best of one of the best. This top 10 is not to be topped.

    Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      Greetings Jerry Sir!

      Unlike many of my contemporary young poets, I have always been drawn to poetry of the 19th century – the age of Romanticism fascinates and lifts my spirit. Having said this, I must confess that Longfellow has been one of the primary influences on me since the day I began penning poetry. And in return, it is a privilege that I wrote this essay – my first ever about his works.

      Regards & Best wishes 🙂

      Reply
      • Nita

        Warm greetings Mr Satyananda. I completely agree with you. I felt deeply connected to Longfellow’s poetries. It was extremely soul stiring. Do you write your own poetries / share .. them on your website, personal blog or through email.. Sir ?

  2. Evan

    Thank you Satyananda. Here are some of my Longfellow picks that weren’t on your excellent list:

    The Arrow and the Song

    I shot an arrow into the air,
    It fell to earth, I knew not where;
    For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
    Could not follow it in its flight.

    I breathed a song into the air,
    It fell to earth, I knew not where;
    For who has sight so keen and strong,
    That it can follow the flight of song?

    Long, long afterward, in an oak
    I found the arrow, still unbroke;
    And the song, from beginning to end,
    I found again in the heart of a friend.

    Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      Greetings Evan!

      That is so kind of you to mention this poem – one of the best indeed. Every time that I’ve read ‘The Arrow and the Song’, its deep lying meaning never fails to mesmerise me. The question is : can we do justice to a heavyweight like H.W. Longfellow by coming up with an all time top ten poems? I bet even lists of best-20 or best-50 won’t be enough. However, I have to agree that the above poem is a beautiful piece.

      Regards and best wishes

      Reply
  3. Evan

    The Builders

    All are architects of Fate,
    Working in these walls of Time;
    Some with massive deeds and great,
    Some with ornaments of rhyme.

    Nothing useless is, or low;
    Each thing in its place is best;
    And what seems but idle show
    Strengthens and supports the rest.

    For the structure that we raise,
    Time is with materials filled;
    Our to-days and yesterdays
    Are the blocks with which we build.

    Truly shape and fashion these;
    Leave no yawning gaps between;
    Think not, because no man sees,
    Such things will remain unseen.

    In the elder days of Art,
    Builders wrought with greatest care
    Each minute and unseen part;
    For the Gods see everywhere.

    Let us do our work as well,
    Both the unseen and the seen;
    Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
    Beautiful, entire, and clean.

    Else our lives are incomplete,
    Standing in these walls of Time,
    Broken stairways, where the feet
    Stumble as they seek to climb.

    Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
    With a firm and ample base;
    And ascending and secure
    Shall to-morrow find its place.

    Thus alone can we attain
    To those turrets, where the eye
    Sees the world as one vast plain,
    And one boundless reach of sky.

    Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      I am always in awe of Longfellow – his poems highly romantic in essence have something new to reveal every time. Evidently, this poem has striking imagery – all in nature and life that ordinary eyes may not see.

      Here are some of the others:

      Aftermath

      When the summer fields are mown,
      When the birds are fledged and flown,
      And the dry leaves strew the path;
      With the falling of the snow,
      With the cawing of the crow,
      Once again the fields we mow
      And gather in the aftermath.

      Not the sweet, new grass with flowers
      Is this harvesting of ours;
      Not the upland clover bloom;
      But the rowen mixed with weeds,
      Tangled tufts from marsh and meads,
      Where the poppy drops its seeds
      In the silence and the gloom.

      Changed

      From the outskirts of the town
      Where of old the mile-stone stood,
      Now a stranger, looking down
      I behold the shadowy crown
      Of the dark and haunted wood.

      Is it changed, or am I changed?
      Ah! the oaks are fresh and green,
      But the friends with whom I ranged
      Through their thickets are estranged
      By the years that intervene.

      Bright as ever flows the sea,
      Bright as ever shines the sun,
      But alas! they seem to me
      Not the sun that used to be,
      Not the tides that used to run.

      Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      Christmas Bells

      I heard the bells on Christmas Day
      Their old, familiar carols play,
      And wild and sweet
      The words repeat
      Of peace on earth, good-will 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, good-will 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, good-will to men!

      Then from each black, accursed mouth
      The cannon thundered in the South,
      And with the sound
      The carols drowned
      Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

      It was as if an earthquake rent
      The hearth-stones of a continent,
      And made forlorn
      The households born
      Of peace on earth, good-will 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, good-will 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, good-will to men!”

      Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      The below poem is one of my favourites but couldn’t make into the greatest ten.

      The Poet’s Calendar

      JANUARY

      Janus am I; oldest of potentates;
      Forward I look, and backward, and below
      I count, as god of avenues and gates,
      The years that through my portals come and go.

      I block the roads, and drift the fields with snow;
      I chase the wild-fowl from the frozen fen;
      My frosts congeal the rivers in their flow,
      My fires light up the hearths and hearts of men.

      FEBRUARY

      I am lustration, and the sea is mine!
      I wash the sands and headlands with my tide;
      My brow is crowned with branches of the pine;
      Before my chariot-wheels the fishes glide.
      By me all things unclean are purified,
      By me the souls of men washed white again;
      E’en the unlovely tombs of those who died
      Without a dirge, I cleanse from every stain.

      MARCH

      I Martius am! Once first, and now the third!
      To lead the Year was my appointed place;
      A mortal dispossessed me by a word,
      And set there Janus with the double face.
      Hence I make war on all the human race;
      I shake the cities with my hurricanes;
      I flood the rivers and their banks efface,
      And drown the farms and hamlets with my rains.

      APRIL

      I open wide the portals of the Spring
      To welcome the procession of the flowers,
      With their gay banners, and the birds that sing
      Their song of songs from their aerial towers.
      I soften with my sunshine and my showers
      The heart of earth; with thoughts of love I glide
      Into the hearts of men; and with the Hours
      Upon the Bull with wreathed horns I ride.

      MAY

      Hark! The sea-faring wild-fowl loud proclaim
      My coming, and the swarming of the bees.
      These are my heralds, and behold! my name
      Is written in blossoms on the hawthorn-trees.
      I tell the mariner when to sail the seas;
      I waft o’er all the land from far away
      The breath and bloom of the Hesperides,
      My birthplace. I am Maia. I am May.

      JUNE

      Mine is the Month of Roses; yes, and mine
      The Month of Marriages! All pleasant sights
      And scents, the fragrance of the blossoming vine,
      The foliage of the valleys and the heights.
      Mine are the longest days, the loveliest nights;
      The mower’s scythe makes music to my ear;
      I am the mother of all dear delights;
      I am the fairest daughter of the year.

      JULY

      My emblem is the Lion, and I breathe
      The breath of Libyan deserts o’er the land;
      My sickle as a sabre I unsheathe,
      And bent before me the pale harvests stand.
      The lakes and rivers shrink at my command,
      And there is thirst and fever in the air;
      The sky is changed to brass, the earth to sand;
      I am the Emperor whose name I bear.

      AUGUST

      The Emperor Octavian, called the August,
      I being his favorite, bestowed his name
      Upon me, and I hold it still in trust,
      In memory of him and of his fame.
      I am the Virgin, and my vestal flame
      Burns less intensely than the Lion’s rage;
      Sheaves are my only garlands, and I claim
      The golden Harvests as my heritage.

      SEPTEMBER

      I bear the Scales, where hang in equipoise
      The night and day; and when unto my lips
      I put my trumpet, with its stress and noise
      Fly the white clouds like tattered sails of ships;
      The tree-tops lash the air with sounding whips;
      Southward the clamorous sea-fowl wing their flight;
      The hedges are all red with haws and hips,
      The Hunter’s Moon reigns empress of the night.

      OCTOBER

      My ornaments are fruits; my garments leaves,
      Woven like cloth of gold, and crimson dyed;
      I do not boast the harvesting of sheaves,
      O’er orchards and o’er vineyards I preside.
      Though on the frigid Scorpion I ride,
      The dreamy air is full, and overflows
      With tender memories of the summer-tide,
      And mingled voices of the doves and crows.

      NOVEMBER

      The Centaur, Sagittarius, am I,
      Born of Ixion’s and the cloud’s embrace;
      With sounding hoofs across the earth I fly,
      A steed Thessalian with a human face.
      Sharp winds the arrows are with which I chase
      The leaves, half dead already with affright;
      I shroud myself in gloom; and to the race
      Of mortals bring nor comfort nor delight.

      DECEMBER

      Riding upon the Goat, with snow-white hair,
      I come, the last of all. This crown of mine
      Is of the holly; in my hand I bear
      The thyrsus, tipped with fragrant cones of pine.
      I celebrate the birth of the Divine,
      And the return of the Saturnian reign;–
      My songs are carols sung at every shrine.
      Proclaiming “Peace on earth, good will to men.”

      Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      Leo Sir, greetings!

      This poem is an amalgamation of truth and beauty. There is a dearth of such pieces these days. But owing to few poets including you, the spirit and art of poetry is still alive.

      Keep inspiring us.

      Regards

      Reply
  4. B. S. Eliud Acrewe

    1. Of course, all poetry is flawed—the “Iliad,” the “Odyssey,” the “Aeneid,” etc. Of course, failures of the greatest poets are the same as those failures of the greatest mathematicians, chemists, composers, philosophers, physicists, etc. Within great creations there is much that is redeemable, much that is inspirational; and most importantly, there we cross the currents of eternity, truth and knowledge, goodness and wisdom, beauty and power.

    2. Mr. Sarangi has done an excellent job in attempting a cataloguing of the ten greatest poems of Mr. Longfellow, his opening paragraph explaining his criteria, listing Longfellow’s greatest poems, but keeping them out of contention because of their length.

    3. Of his lengthy works, I admire Longfellow’s attempt at dactyllic hexameters in “Evangeline.” In this poem he attempted the meter of Homer and Vergil. Though Longfellow did not achieve their power or even their poetic talent, his attempt, like that of his British contemporaries Kingsley, Clough and others, is truly inspirational. A little bit closer to poetic achievement was his use of trochaic tetrameters in his epic “Hiawatha,” similar to the Finnish “Kalevala” by Elias Lönnrot. Longfellow certainly was one of the major participants in the Victorian striving after narrative poetry.

    4. One of my favourite poems of the 19th century is Longfellow’s “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” For all of its flaws, I admire its pacing, its striking aurality, its brush with history, its casual intricacy, its distinctive clarity, and its completed integrity. I never tire of reading its 14 stanzas. Because I have read it so many times, it may be one of those seminal works that has had the most profound influence upon my own verse.

    5. As Mr. Sarangi acutely pointed out, Longfellow was also a translator, his most impressive work Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” As a professor of Italian at Harvard, and an excellent poet as well, his translation may be among the best in the English language. Along with his sonnet on Chaucer, the six sonnets he appended to that translation of Dante are also among my favourite short poems of Longfellow. And here we can thank Mr. Mantyk for his additional reminders as well.

    6. Of contemporary critics, the essays I most admire on Longfellow are those of Gioia, one of which I only vaguely remember that he sent me back in the days of snail mail. He may understand Longfellow better than anyone in our present era.

    7. When I despaired of studying the richness of Romantic poetry in English, Longfellow (who in some respects fell out of that period) remained one of my guiding lights. Mr. Sarangi is wise to study Longfellow early, as he will find there is so much to discover in the world of poetry, and it is good to have solid anchors in mass society.

    8. What I learned from my beginning studies of Romantic literature is that, the world of poetry is vast, so much so, no one can comprehend its enormity. Here are some of the writers I looked at who wrote at the end of their lives, in the middle of their lives, and at the beginning of their lives, starting with poems written in 1800 and after. Disregard the asterisk notations. After more than 250 pages, I quit, as the project seemed too formidible.

    9. Poets writing in the Romantic Era:
    1731-1802 Darwin
    1742-1809 Seward**
    1743-1825 Barbauld**
    1745-1813 Pye
    1748-1824 Lees**
    1753-1824 Lofft
    1753-1831 Roscoe**
    1754-1832 Crabbe
    1754-1812 Barlow
    1755-1841 Dyer**
    1756-1826 Gifford**
    1757-1827 Blake
    1759-1834 Park**
    1760-1825 Gilbert**
    1762-1837 Brydges
    1762-1851 Baillie*
    1763-1855 Rogers
    1764-1834 Thelwall**
    1764-1823 Radcliffe**
    1765-1851 Luttrel*
    1765-1834 Fanshawe**
    1765-1847 M. Lamb
    1766-1845 Oliphant**
    1766- D’Israeli**
    1766-1823 Bloomfield (-2)
    1767-1815 Milliken**
    1767-1848 J. Q. Adams
    1768-1849 D. Madison
    1768-1833 Dibdin
    1768-1854 Brand
    1769-1855 Kelly
    1769-1846 Frere
    1769-1853 Opie**
    1769-1834 Spencer**
    1769-1842 Wrangham
    1770-1833 Anderson**
    1770-1805 Tobin
    1770-1813 Everett
    1770-1860 Croly
    1770-1853 Cottle
    1770-1850 Wordsworth
    1770-1838 Hogg
    1771-1832 W. Scott
    1771-1837 Fessenden
    1771-1854 Montgomery
    1772-1850 Walford
    1772-1810 Tighe**
    1772-1844 Cary
    1772-1834 S. Coleridge
    1773-1811 Paine
    1773-1853 Le Grice**
    1774- Tannahill**
    1774-1843 Southey
    1775-1841 Blanco White
    1775-1822 A. Boswell
    1775-1852 Cawood
    1775-1839 Lloyd**
    1775-1802 Dermody**
    1775- Lewis**
    1775- Leydon**
    1775- Rose**
    1775-1864 Landor
    1775-1834 C. Lamb
    1775-1839 J. Smith
    1776-1859 Owenson**
    1776- Mant**
    1777-1844 Campbell
    1777- Ireland**
    1777-1839 Riley (Cpt James: Sufferings in Africa)
    1778- Herbert**
    1778-1860 Paulding
    1779-1829 Davy
    1779-1838 Grant
    1779-1863 C. Moore
    1779-1849 H. Smith
    1779-1843 Allston
    1779-1839 Galt
    1779-1852 T. Moore
    1779-1844 Merivale**
    1780-1843 Key
    1780-1842 Hone*
    1780-1860 Croly**
    1780-1857 Croker**
    1780?-1820 Beck**
    1781-1849 E. Elliott
    1781-1852 D. Young
    1781-1829 Thurlow**
    1781- Bucke**
    1781- J. Mitford**
    1781-1838 Pickering
    1782-1861 Palmer
    1782-1809 Seward**
    1782-1866 A. Taylor
    1783-1820 J. Taylor
    1783-1826 Heber
    1783-1861 Brown
    1784-1872 Hastings
    1784-1842 Cunningham**
    1784- Rodger**
    1784- Tennant**
    1784- Knowles**
    1784-1859 Hunt
    1784-1849 Barton
    1784-1856 Kenyon
    1785-1806 H. K. White
    1785- Wilson**
    1785-1866 Pierpont
    1785-1842 Woodworth
    1785-1866 Peacock
    1785- Strong**
    1786-1846 B. Field
    1786-1836 Crockett
    1786-1820 Barrett**
    1786-1854 Bowles**
    1787-1855 M. Mitford**
    1787- Glen**
    1787-1870 Williard
    1787-1874 Procter
    1787-1879 Dana, Sr.
    1788-1834 Emmons
    1788-1863 Grayson
    1788-1845 Barham**
    1788-1872 Bamford**
    1788- De Vere**
    1788-1854 Townsend**
    1788-1872 Atherstone
    1788-1824 Byron
    1788-1879 Hale
    1789-1865 Gould
    1789-1871 C. Elliott
    1789-1844 Hillhouse, J.
    1789-1847 R. Wilde
    1789-1855 Harney
    1789-1836 Pringle
    1789- Daniel**
    1789- Conder**
    1789- Thom**
    1790- Doubleday**
    1790- Nicholson**
    1790-1876 Brown**
    1790-1872 Wentworth
    1790-1870 Probert**
    1790-1867 Halleck
    1791-1859 Hillhouse, A.
    1791-1852 Payne
    1791-1865 Sigourney
    1791-1851 Quillinan**
    1791- Milman
    1791-1875 Sprague
    1791-1823 C. Wolfe
    1792-1868 S. Smith**
    1792- Castillo**
    1792- Wiffen**
    1792-1822 Shelley
    1792-1866 Keble
    1792-1872 Bowring
    1793-1847 Lyte
    1793-1864 Clare
    1793-1860 Goodrich
    1793-1876 Neal
    1793-1864 Schoolcraft
    1793-1868 Anster**
    1793- Maginn**
    1793- Watt**
    1794-1835 Hemans
    1794-1878 Bryant
    1794-1861 Goldsmith
    1794-1843 Ware**
    1794-1845 Brooks**
    1794-1827 C. Wilcox
    1794-1888 Gilman
    1794- Thomas**
    1794-18 Lockhart**
    1795-18 Callanan**
    1795- Hamilton**
    1795- Story**
    1795- Talfourd**
    1795-1846 W. Walker
    1795-1856 Percival
    1795-1820 Drake
    1795-1821 Keats
    1795-1846 Darley
    1796-1849 H. Coleridge
    1796-1828 Brainard**
    1796- Bunn**
    1796- Planche**
    1796- Reynolds**
    1797-1874 Mote
    1797-1883 Horton
    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
    1797- Bayly
    1797-1819 Eastburn
    1797- Lover
    1797- Cobbold
    1797- Watts
    1797- Motherwell
    1798- Gilfillan
    1798- Pollok
    1798- Hyslop
    1798- Moir
    1798-1842 Banim
    1799-1888 Alcott
    1799-1845 Hood
    1799-1874 Moultrie
    1799-1887 Heraud
    1799- Howitt
    1799- Costello
    1799-1832 Sands
    1800-1894 Bridges
    1800-1879 C. Wells
    1800-1886 Taylor
    1801-1886 Barnes
    1801-1848 Cole
    1801-1890 Newman
    1802-1838 Landon
    1802-1828 Pickney
    1802-1864 G. Morris
    1802-1839 Praed
    1803-1884 Horne
    1803-1849 Beddoes
    1803-1875 Hawker
    1803-1884 Horne
    1803-1849 Mangan
    1803-1882 Emerson
    1804-1862 Whitehead
    1806-1861 E. Browning
    1807-1882 Longfellow
    1807-1892 Whittier
    1808-1879 S. Smith
    1809-1892 Tennyson
    1809-1883 Fitzgerald
    1809-1858 Chivers
    1809-1894 Holmes
    1809-1849 Poe
    1810-1886 Ferguson
    1810-1880 Stoddart
    1812-1888 Lear
    1812-1889 R. Browning
    1813-1868 Harpur
    1814-1902 De Vere
    1816-1902 Bailey
    1816-1876 Heavysege
    1816-1903 Duffy
    1818-1848 E. Bronte
    1819-1891 Lowell
    1819-1892 Whitman
    1819-1910 Howe
    1819-1875 Kingsley
    1819-1891 Melville
    1819-1861 Clough
    1820-1897 Ingeton
    1822-1888 M. Arnold
    1822-1893 Sangster
    1823-1896 Patmore
    1824-1897 Palgrave
    1824-1874 Dobell
    1824-1889 Allingham
    1824-1873 Dutt

    10. Note that at the beginning, some of the writers are predominantly late 18th century; and except for writers, like Poe, as you can see towards the end of this list, writers tend to be Victorian in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa, or Realist in America; hence the dotted line. People do not fit literary periods very well; yet without literary periods we would despair of even being able to talk of poets from the vantage point of this New Millennium. As Mr. Sarangi may note, I have cut the list off at Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the Bengali poet, one of the early writers of IWE (Indian Writing in English).

    11. I wish Mr. Sarangi the best of luck in his endeavours in English literature. Having graduated from the Indira Gandhi Institute of Technology, he may be poised to advance English literature in the 21st century. Perhaps he may even help us understand India better, a landscape of so many competing languages and traditions, much in a similar way that English poetry itself comes from so many nations and traditions as well.

    Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      Greetings for the day!

      First of all, I extend my deep gratitude for these wonderful words – words that perhaps would have remained unsaid if I had not tried to come up with this essay. Such rich outflow of expressions from one experienced poet enriches the minds of young ones like us. I could be boasting in some way if I say that being someone in my early twenties ( from the so called advanced generation), I have had not the slightest urge to study any modern or post-modern poet.

      When I began writing poetry, I took a great liking to the works of Longfellow, Coleridge, Blake, Shelley and Keats and maybe that was vital to feel an inner spark in me – a spark to appreciate poetry that had the rhyme and meter. This, I think is what led me to writing only poems that rhymed. They never had a strict meter, predominantly because I hail from the non English speaking world. But the poems of Longfellow have something in them to inspire me every time.

      It is always surprising to most that despite being an electrical engineering graduate, I take interest in ancient poetry and literature – works of Marvell, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Yeats, Milton, Donne, Raleigh, Herbert, Drayton, Spenser, Clare, Stevenson, Arnold, Frost, Sidney and many others ( Yeats and Frost especially because I see in their works a glimpse of the art like in those olden days). It’s still early days for me, but I hope to keep rooted to the path of improvement.

      The sonnets that Longfellow wrote to some of the masters are inspirational, like the ones on Dante, Keats and Shakespeare below:

      Dante

      Tuscan, that wanderest through the realms of gloom,
      With thoughtful pace, and sad, majestic eyes,
      Stern thoughts and awful from thy soul arise,
      Like Farinata from his fiery tomb.
      Thy sacred song is like the trump of doom;
      Yet in thy heart what human sympathies,
      What soft compassion glows, as in the skies
      The tender stars their clouded lamps relume!
      Methinks I see thee stand, with pallid cheeks
      By Fra Hilario in his diocese,
      As up the convent-walls, in golden streaks,
      The ascending sunbeams mark the day’s decrease;
      And, as he asks what there the stranger seeks,
      Thy voice along the cloister whispers, “Peace!”

      Keats

      The young Endymion sleeps Endymion’s sleep;
      The shepherd-boy whose tale was left half told!
      The solemn grove uplifts its shield of gold
      To the red rising moon, and loud and deep
      The nightingale is singing from the steep;
      It is midsummer, but the air is cold;
      Can it be death? Alas, beside the fold
      A shepherd’s pipe lies shattered near his sheep.
      Lo! in the moonlight gleams a marble white,
      On which I read: “Here lieth one whose name
      Was writ in water.” And was this the meed
      Of his sweet singing? Rather let me write:
      “The smoking flax before it burst to flame
      Was quenched by death, and broken the bruised reed.”

      Shakespeare

      A vision as of crowded city streets,
      With human life in endless overflow;
      Thunder of thoroughfares; trumpets that blow
      To battle; clamor, in obscure retreats,
      Of sailors landed from their anchored fleets;
      Tolling of bells in turrets, and below
      Voices of children, and bright flowers that throw
      O’er garden-walls their intermingled sweets!
      This vision comes to me when I unfold
      The volume of the Poet paramount,
      Whom all the Muses loved, not one alone;–
      Into his hands they put the lyre of gold,
      And, crowned with sacred laurel at their fount,
      Placed him as Musagetes on their throne.

      Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      Greetings Mr. Grinberg !

      This is perhaps one of the kindest gestures. Thank you so very much.

      Regards and best wishes.

      Reply
  5. David Gosselin

    Nice top ten. I discovered some new great poems.

    I never really took the time to delve too deep into Longfellow, but I had crossed his poem the day is gone, which Poe gave as a perfect example of poetry in his The Poetic Principle I believe. I think Poe was quite influenced by that kind of poem.

    I think it’s especially powerful for precisely what it says it’s doing, which is to offer some humble offering to as Keats says “To lift the thoughts and soothe the cares of man.” That, as opposed to some grandiose idea that the poet wants to get across where what one feels is the poet trying to tell us something, as opposed to just being moved by the effortless beauty and music. For this reason I think that poem is so powerful as it in a sense demonstrates the true power of poetry, through its humbleness. Like a beautiful person who does not woo us by saying or showing too much, but by the grace revealed in the smallest of gestures.

    Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      Greetings Mr. Gosselin.

      ‘The Day is Done’ is extremely powerful as I think its inherent feature is its simplicity. Time and again, a majority of poets try to give us a glimpse of a truth, a principle, a thought – too complex and sometimes this acts against getting it across to the reader. The above poem is spontaneous and worth reading for it ‘pleases and eases’ without ‘hammering on lofty creases’ – the reason as to why it is well received by most.

      Reply
  6. Lew Icarus Bede

    In his “The Poetic Principle,” Edgar Allan Poe, includes Longfellow’s “Proem,” i. e., “The day is done…” and of which he writes the poem is to be admired for “the ease of…[its]…general manner.” I agree with Poe that Longfellow’s 44-line “Proem” at the beginning of his 144 page book of poems entitled “Waif” is remarkable for the grace of its meter and the naturalness of its style. 19th century American writers, like Longfellow in metre and Whitman in free verse, strove after this effect. [By the way, I think this is the first of Longfellow’s poems from “Waif” that have made it into this stream.]

    Like Mr. Gosselin, I, too, enjoy those smaller pieces of wisdom and nuanced feeling, those anecdotes of history in all the great fields of human endeavour. And although Poe is often taken to task for his essay’s emphasis on the small, Poe does write in that same essay:

    “On the other hand, it is clear that a poem may be improperly brief. Undue brevity degenerates into mere epigrammatism. A very short poem, while now and then producing a brilliant or vivid [expression], never produces a profound or enduring effect. There must be steady pressing down of the stamp upon the wax. De Béranger has wrought innumerable things, pungent and spirit stirring; but in general, they have been too imponderous to stamp themselves deeply into the public attention; and thus, as so many feathers of fancy, have been blown aloft only to be whistled down by the wind.”

    Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      Greetings Mr. Bede!

      You made a valid point nonetheless. Recollecting ‘The Poetic Principle’, Poe wrote the below lines for ‘The Day is Done’ poem:

      “With no great range of imagination, these lines have been justly admired for their delicacy of expression. Some of the images are very effective. Nothing can be better than —

      —————— the bards sublime,

      Whose distant footsteps echo

      Down the corridors of Time.

      The idea of the last quatrain is also very effective. The poem, on the whole, however, is chiefly to be admired for the graceful insouciance of its metre, so well in accordance with the character of the sentiments, and especially for the ease of the general manner. This “ease,” or naturalness, in a literary style, it has long been the fashion to regard as ease in appearance alone — as a point of really difficult attainment. But not so: — a natural manner is difficult only to him who should never meddle with it — to the unnatural. It is but the result of writing with the understanding, or with the instinct, that the tone, in composition, should always be that which the mass of mankind would adopt — and must perpetually vary, of course, with the occasion.”

      Reply
  7. James Sale

    This is a very valuable list and great service that Satyananda has done. I have never been a great Longfellow admirer or reader, although maybe I should read more of his work, as, like myself, he is a Quaker and his work always seems to reveal a deep ethical basis. I remember when I first encountered him, aged 19, when I read the entirety of Hiawatha. Initially, it transfixed me with its rhythms and rhymes, but I also remember flagging as I got further and further into the poem, as its structure became repetitive. Of the above, The Children’s Hour I especially like, and also like The Snowflake that Leo Yankevich refers to. The problem for me with much of the poetry, though, is that although I love ethics, sometimes saying the right things can seem too simplistic – rather like rhyming in fact. Predictable rhymes with predictable sentiments leave me feeling unsatisfied.

    Reply
    • David B. Gosselin

      I agree on the whole ethics part James. That’s why I think the Day is Done is truly wonderful and superior for just that reason: He doesn’t have to say anything; that’s what I think allows the beauty and music to flow so freely and sweetly.

      I think we’ve all had that experience where we’re trying to say something, and for just that reason the poetry feels forced and contrived, while in the meantime some other completely random idea might come along that you haven’t planned for, and it will just musically moved and flow seemingly out of nothing.

      Reply
      • Satyananda Sarangi

        Yes, Mr. Gosselin. As poets, we might have encountered situations wherein we, trying to write on a particular experience, may have been drawn to a strange idea – this perhaps originates from within the theme we’re writing on, yet differs greatly from the original idea.

    • Satyananda Sarangi

      Greetings James Sir,

      I completely agree with the point about ‘predictable rhymes and predictable sentiments’. Speaking of myself, I am normally put off by ‘the same wine in new bottle’ kind of poems – it cannot lend us eyes to see a thought or a scenario in a new light. In this regard, I can say that many of Longfellow’s works are simple – they may portray the mundane and the known, but few others are quite different. Evidently, he tried different structures and meters; ‘Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie’ had dactylic hexameter and trochaic tetra-metric lines appeared in ‘Hiawatha’s Childhood while many others were indeed memorable. His unique style is more of a ‘song’ – songs that are softly taking along the reader with them and can be memorised.

      Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      And James Sir, talking of the ‘song style’, the poems below for they have this inherent characteristic:

      Something Left Undone

      Labor with what zeal we will,
      Something still remains undone,
      Something uncompleted still
      Waits the rising of the sun.
      By the bedside, on the stair,
      At the threshold, near the gates,
      With its menace or its prayer,
      Like a mendicant it waits;
      Waits, and will not go away;
      Waits, and will not be gainsaid;
      By the cares of yesterday
      Each to-day is heavier made;
      Till at length the burden seems
      Greater than our strength can bear,
      Heavy as the weight of dreams,
      Pressing on us everywhere.
      And we stand from day to day,
      Like the dwarfs of times gone by,
      Who, as Northern legends say,
      On their shoulders held the sky.

      ( From ‘ Birds of Passage’, 1863)

      Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      To A Child

      Dear child! how radiant on thy mother’s knee,
      With merry-making eyes and jocund smiles,
      Thou gazest at the painted tiles,
      Whose figures grace,
      With many a grotesque form and face.
      The ancient chimney of thy nursery!
      The lady with the gay macaw,
      The dancing girl, the grave bashaw
      With bearded lip and chin;
      And, leaning idly o’er his gate,
      Beneath the imperial fan of state,
      The Chinese mandarin.

      With what a look of proud command
      Thou shakest in thy little hand
      The coral rattle with its silver bells,
      Making a merry tune!
      Thousands of years in Indian seas
      That coral grew, by slow degrees,
      Until some deadly and wild monsoon
      Dashed it on Coromandel’s sand!
      Those silver bells
      Reposed of yore,
      As shapeless ore,
      Far down in the deep-sunken wells
      Of darksome mines,
      In some obscure and sunless place,
      Beneath huge Chimborazo’s base,
      Or Potosi’s o’erhanging pines
      And thus for thee, O little child,
      Through many a danger and escape,
      The tall ships passed the stormy cape;
      For thee in foreign lands remote,
      Beneath a burning, tropic clime,
      The Indian peasant, chasing the wild goat,
      Himself as swift and wild,
      In falling, clutched the frail arbute,
      The fibres of whose shallow root,
      Uplifted from the soil, betrayed
      The silver veins beneath it laid,
      The buried treasures of the miser, Time.

      But, lo! thy door is left ajar!
      Thou hearest footsteps from afar!
      And, at the sound,
      Thou turnest round
      With quick and questioning eyes,
      Like one, who, in a foreign land,
      Beholds on every hand
      Some source of wonder and surprise!
      And, restlessly, impatiently,
      Thou strivest, strugglest, to be free,

      The four walls of thy nursery
      Are now like prison walls to thee.
      No more thy mother’s smiles,
      No more the painted tiles,
      Delight thee, nor the playthings on the floor,
      That won thy little, beating heart before;
      Thou strugglest for the open door.

      Through these once solitary halls
      Thy pattering footstep falls.
      The sound of thy merry voice
      Makes the old walls
      Jubilant, and they rejoice
      With the joy of thy young heart,
      O’er the light of whose gladness
      No shadows of sadness
      From the sombre background of memory start.

      Once, ah, once, within these walls,
      One whom memory oft recalls,
      The Father of his Country, dwelt.
      And yonder meadows broad and damp
      The fires of the besieging camp
      Encircled with a burning belt.
      Up and down these echoing stairs,
      Heavy with the weight of cares,
      Sounded his majestic tread;
      Yes, within this very room
      Sat he in those hours of gloom,
      Weary both in heart and head.

      But what are these grave thoughts to thee?
      Out, out! into the open air!
      Thy only dream is liberty,
      Thou carest little how or where.
      I see thee eager at thy play,
      Now shouting to the apples on the tree,
      With cheeks as round and red as they;
      And now among the yellow stalks,
      Among the flowering shrubs and plants,
      As restless as the bee.
      Along the garden walks,
      The tracks of thy small carriage-wheels I trace;
      And see at every turn how they efface
      Whole villages of sand-roofed tents,
      That rise like golden domes
      Above the cavernous and secret homes
      Of wandering and nomadic tribes of ants.
      Ah, cruel little Tamerlane,
      Who, with thy dreadful reign,
      Dost persecute and overwhelm
      These hapless Troglodytes of thy realm!

      What! tired already! with those suppliant looks,
      And voice more beautiful than a poet’s books,
      Or murmuring sound of water as it flows,
      Thou comest back to parley with repose;
      This rustic seat in the old apple-tree,
      With its o’erhanging golden canopy
      Of leaves illuminate with autumnal hues,
      And shining with the argent light of dews,
      Shall for a season be our place of rest.
      Beneath us, like an oriole’s pendent nest,
      From which the laughing birds have taken wing,
      By thee abandoned, hangs thy vacant swing.
      Dream-like the waters of the river gleam;
      A sailless vessel drops adown the stream,
      And like it, to a sea as wide and deep,
      Thou driftest gently down the tides of sleep.

      O child! O new-born denizen
      Of life’s great city! on thy head
      The glory of the morn is shed,
      Like a celestial benison!
      Here at the portal thou dost stand,
      And with thy little hand
      Thou openest the mysterious gate
      Into the future’s undiscovered land.
      I see its valves expand,
      As at the touch of Fate!
      Into those realms of love and hate,
      Into that darkness blank and drear,
      By some prophetic feeling taught,
      I launch the bold, adventurous thought,
      Freighted with hope and fear;
      As upon subterranean streams,
      In caverns unexplored and dark,
      Men sometimes launch a fragile bark,
      Laden with flickering fire,
      And watch its swift-receding beams,
      Until at length they disappear,
      And in the distant dark expire.

      By what astrology of fear or hope
      Dare I to cast thy horoscope!
      Like the new moon thy life appears;
      A little strip of silver light,
      And widening outward into night
      The shadowy disk of future years;
      And yet upon its outer rim,
      A luminous circle, faint and dim,
      And scarcely visible to us here,
      Rounds and completes the perfect sphere;
      A prophecy and intimation,
      A pale and feeble adumbration,
      Of the great world of light, that lies
      Behind all human destinies.

      Ah! if thy fate, with anguish fraught,
      Should be to wet the dusty soil
      With the hot tears and sweat of toil,–
      To struggle with imperious thought,
      Until the overburdened brain,
      Weary with labor, faint with pain,
      Like a jarred pendulum, retain
      Only its motion, not its power,–
      Remember, in that perilous hour,
      When most afflicted and oppressed,
      From labor there shall come forth rest.

      And if a more auspicious fate
      On thy advancing steps await
      Still let it ever be thy pride
      To linger by the laborer’s side;
      With words of sympathy or song
      To cheer the dreary march along
      Of the great army of the poor,
      O’er desert sand, o’er dangerous moor.
      Nor to thyself the task shall be
      Without reward; for thou shalt learn
      The wisdom early to discern
      True beauty in utility;
      As great Pythagoras of yore,
      Standing beside the blacksmith’s door,
      And hearing the hammers, as they smote
      The anvils with a different note,
      Stole from the varying tones, that hung
      Vibrant on every iron tongue,
      The secret of the sounding wire.
      And formed the seven-chorded lyre.

      Enough! I will not play the Seer;
      I will no longer strive to ope
      The mystic volume, where appear
      The herald Hope, forerunning Fear,
      And Fear, the pursuivant of Hope.
      Thy destiny remains untold;
      For, like Acestes’ shaft of old,
      The swift thought kindles as it flies,
      And burns to ashes in the skies.

      ( From ‘The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems’, 1845)

      Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      Greetings!

      Wishing you a delightful and prosperous year ahead.

      Best wishes.

      Reply
  8. Barbara Hall

    I have recently found out that Henry is my 4th cousin 7x removed. What an amazing honor! I’ve always enjoyed the art of writing and poetry, but had never read his work. Of course, that has all since changed 🙂

    Reply
  9. Satyananda Sarangi

    Warm greetings, Ms. Nita!

    I am really glad to know that you connected so well with Longfellow’s poetry. Indeed, he has had an influential role to play in inspiring me to write poetry.
    At this point of time, I don’t have my own website nor do I write via a blog. I have publications in many magazines, journals and anthologies.
    However, you may like to read my poems published on SCP’s website here:

    http://classicalpoets.org/the-pilgrimage-to-heaven-and-other-poetry-by-satyananda-sarangi/

    http://classicalpoets.org/meadows-of-corn-and-other-poetry-by-satyananda-sarangi/

    Hope that you enjoy them.

    Regards

    Reply

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