|THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,|
|Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,|
|Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,|
|Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.|
|Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean||5|
|Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.|
(Just checked the Enid Schools site: It's now Longfellow Middle School. Is nothing sacred?)
At Enid's Adams Elementary School we read Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride" and memorized its opening lines:
|LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear|
|Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,|
|On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;|
|Hardly a man is now alive|
|Who remembers that famous day and year.||5|
|He said to his friend, ‘If the British march|
|By land or sea from the town to-night,|
|Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch|
|Of the North Church tower as a signal light,—|
|One, if by land, and two, if by sea;||10|
|And I on the opposite shore will be,|
|Ready to ride and spread the alarm|
|Through every Middlesex village and farm,|
|For the country folk to be up and to arm.’|
Both my mother and father could still say the opening lines from his "The Village Blacksmith," a poem they'd had to learn in school.
|UNDER a spreading chestnut tree|
|The village smithy stands;|
|The smith, a mighty man is he,|
|With large and sinewy hands;|
|And the muscles of his brawny arms||5|
|Are strong as iron bands.|
By the time I was in college, though (1962-1966), Longfellow was "out." His sing-songy lines, his often un-PC poems (The Song of Hiawatha, The Courtship of Miles Standish), the perception of him as a "lightweight"--all contributed to his disappearance from the canon. Yes, his name still came up; he was still an important figure in the literary history of the mid- to late 19th century. (He was friends with the Greats--e.g., Emerson, Holmes, Hawthorne, etc.) But he was no longer a great poet. Or even a good one. He was, well, a hack. A doggerelist, even.
As a consequence, I didn't use much/any Longfellow early in my teaching career--didn't teach him. I think my students still read "Paul Revere's Ride," though, in elementary school. For sometimes those famous lines would come up. But I had standards! So ... no Longfellow.
(I just checked the three of the "readers" and anthologies I used in my middle school career--1966-1997--and found: (1) no Longfellow in Doorways to Discovery (1960); (2) in Exploring Literature (which I used from 1983-1991 or so) I found "Paul Revere's Ride" and "A Psalm of Life" (didn't teach either one); (3) in Explorations in Literature (1991-97) is "The Wreck of the Hesperus" (didn't teach it).)
Decades passed. And Longfellow began inching his way back into my syllabus--and into the university curriculum. Mind you, I don't think he will ever return to the lofty status he once had (nor does his work merit such a place), but when I began reading about him--and reading his work--I found there is much more to the man (and to the writer) than I'd ever thought.
In ensuing posts I'm going to tell you some stories about Longfellow--some things that really surprised me when I learned them. So maybe they'll surprise you as well. And maybe, in some cases, you'll find yourselves doing what I did at the time: weeping.
TO BE CONTINUED ...
Note: I know that I now have several posts that have ended with To be continued--one about my boyhood dog, Sooner; another about my adolescent crush on actress Valerie French; and now ... Longfellow. Trust me: I'll get to all of them!