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Unread 02-27-2003, 10:21 PM
VictoriaGaile VictoriaGaile is offline
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I came across this today on the Your Daily Poetry Break - selected because today was Longfellow's birthday - and was interested in what people here thought of this piece.

Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.

I find that the split infinitive in S2 bothers me a lot, but I like the rhyme and rhythm of the piece a great deal.
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Unread 02-28-2003, 07:06 AM
David Westheimer David Westheimer is offline
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The adverb between "take" and "shape" is intrusive, if that's what you're calling a split infinitive,but I suppose the times were more forgiving. Longfellow was once a part of an American childhood. "The Village Blacksmith," "Hiawatha," his poem about the "midnight ride of Paul Revere" are a part of Americana, once a staple in shools and home libraries. He has been largely eased out of the school curricula for diversity reasons, I think. He represents to many of our own contemporaries a stopping off point, a pit-stop, on the road to a very mixed America, adn is excoriated by some, though some of his best known poems are about American Indians, Cajuns (Acadians), etc. His is a very WASPY and sentimentalizing point of view. Benign, but implicitly patronizing in the minds of many. I don't remember whether I encountered him in school first or at home, but around the age of ten or eleven, I loved "Hiawatha," "The Village Blacksmith," "Evangeline," "Paul Revere" etc., though by the time I was fourteen LOngfellow was someone who belonged to my personal past. I could measure the distance I had come by looking back at him. I think he remains that for many Americans.

He probably fails to hold the interest of adults, not because of his craft, but because of his sentimentality and his tendency to make the big picture look simple. Which I suppose is the task of one writing about a new land without legend or myth of its own--or at least the literary elaboration of it. He was perhaps better, given his intent, than he appears today, when the power centers of the country seem to have shifted away from white bread to rye. "Speaking for" rather than "letting others speak for themselves," he may look a bit quaint.

I don't regret having read him, but I don't miss him either.
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Unread 02-28-2003, 11:33 AM
R. S. Gwynn's Avatar
R. S. Gwynn R. S. Gwynn is offline
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One of my favorite Longfellow poems--a little difficult for us because the setting, a long building where rope is woven by hand, is unfamiliar unless you've visited a maritime museum.


IN that building, long and low,
With its windows all a-row,
Like the port-holes of a hulk,
Human spiders spin and spin,
Backward down their threads so thin
Dropping, each a hempen bulk.

At the end, an open door;
Squares of sunshine on the floor
Light the long and dusky lane;
And the whirring of a wheel,
Dull and drowsy, makes me feel
All its spokes are in my brain.

As the spinners to the end
Downward go and reascend,
Gleam the long threads in the sun;
While within this brain of mine
Cobwebs brighter and more fine
By the busy wheel are spun.

Two fair maidens in a swing,
Like white doves upon the wing,
First before my vision pass;
Laughing, as their gentle hands
Closely clasp the twisted strands,
At their shadow on the grass.

Then a booth of mountebanks,
With its smell of tan and planks,
And a girl poised high in air
On a cord, in spangled dress,
With a faded loveliness,
And a weary look of care.

Then a homestead among farms,
And a woman with bare arms
Drawing water from a well;
As the bucket mounts apace,
With it mounts her own fair face,
As at some magician's spell.

Then an old man in a tower,
Ringing loud the noontide hour,
While the rope coils round and round
Like a serpent at his feet,
And again, in swift retreat,
Nearly lifts him from the ground.

Then within a prison-yard,
Faces fixed, and stern, and hard,
Laughter and indecent mirth;
Ah! it is the gallows-tree!
Breath of Christian charity,
Blow, and sweep it from the earth!

Then a school-boy, with his kite
Gleaming in a sky of light,
And an eager, upward look;
Steeds pursued through lane and field;
Fowlers with their snares concealed;
And an angler by a brook.

Ships rejoicing in the breeze,
Wrecks that float o'er unknown seas,
Anchors dragged through faithless sand;
Sea-fog drifting overhead,
And, with lessening line and lead,
Sailors feeling for the land.

All these scenes do I behold,
These, and many left untold,
In that building long and low;
While the wheel goes round and round,
With a drowsy, dreamy sound,
And the spinners backward go.

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Unread 02-28-2003, 12:30 PM
ChrisW ChrisW is offline
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Location: Boston, MA
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David, have you read "The Jewish Cemetary at Newport"? I think that one might require you to modify or hedge much of what you say about Longfellow. At least it made me do that.
I posted it a long time ago in this forum -- click here for the link.

[This message has been edited by ChrisW (edited February 28, 2003).]
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Unread 02-28-2003, 01:12 PM
R. S. Gwynn's Avatar
R. S. Gwynn R. S. Gwynn is offline
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"The Arsenal at Springfield" is another favorite--one of the most eloquent of all anti-war poems.
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Unread 02-28-2003, 01:47 PM
David Westheimer David Westheimer is offline
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Thanks, Chris. A better poem than the ones I cited or remember. I think of Longfellow as a boy's poet. and wouldn't have thought of reading him as an adult. Maybe teh part of the corpus I was exposed to didn't sustain an interest in further reading--though I liked him very mcuh at the time. We had some Longfellow at home, but I don't remember whether we had a Selected Longfellow or simply anthologies that contained the usual pieces. I suspect the latter. In fact, they may be been childrens' or boy's anthologies--or "family" anthologies which were common in that era. I modify: I don't regret reading him, but don't miss him because I am unfamiliar with his more complex and adult works. The ones I liked early I can live without. Though they weren't bad for what they were intended to be,even so. Thanks for the education.
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Unread 02-28-2003, 02:05 PM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
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Location: Federal Way, Washington, USA
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I don't remember having seen that poem, and it's one I wouldn't think I'd forget. It's good work, faithful to its form and its subject. Thanks for posting it.
I suspect that one problem for Longfellow is that he can sound facile in an age that often expects poetry to be anguished. Yet to my ear, in addition to what for me is much lovely ornament (if not quite Stevens's essential gaudiness), there's almost always a startling, illuminating conceit, like that "poem of the air" image.
Maybe his stock was a bit inflated in his day, but it's unjustly deflated now.
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Unread 02-28-2003, 09:08 PM
gp gp is offline
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I came to an appreciation of Longfellow after reading Dana Gioia's essay in the Columbia History of American Poetry (by the way, I think any understanding of Frost must include Longfellow, one of his faves):

And here's a Longfellow poem I absolutely admire:


The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea in the darkness calls and calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveller to the shore,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

[This message has been edited by gp (edited February 28, 2003).]
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Unread 03-02-2003, 12:10 PM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
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Good point about Frost. Even if one finds it hard to appreciate Longfellow for his own sake, his influence is everywhere. Even the title of RF's first book (in England, his second in the U.S.) comes from a Longfellow poem. Back when HWL's stock was even lower than it is today Frost used to include a poem or two of his in some of his readings, usually anonymously, and then reveal the author's name only after the people in the audience had expressed their admiration.
Another fine one is "The Cross of Snow." And not long ago I reread "Evangeline" after, oh, thirty years, and was taken in by the story and by the many wonderful turns along the way. The experience led me to take another crack at "Hiawatha" but with, I'm afraid, no such pleasant results. I'll have to try that one again in another thirty years.
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Unread 03-03-2003, 05:47 PM
David Anthony David Anthony is offline
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I believe the "suddenly" problem would be entirely resolved if "sudden" were substituted.
Must have been a bugger, getting by without the internet workshops.
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