Famous Once Again

Longfellow reaches his bicentennial; here’s why his poems became perennial

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Still, Longfellow did what he could to hold the sunshine as long as possible. When he died, he even left behind a collection of pencil stubs wrapped in pieces of paper identifying, in his handwriting, the works that he had composed with each one.

"Above all, Longfellow wrote poems that were meant to be enjoyed," says Christoph Irmscher. "Storytelling, unfortunately, goes against the modernist belief that in order to be any good a poem has to be concise and compressed, and difficult to figure out."

Perhaps Longfellow provided his own best summary in "A Psalm of Life":

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

Nicholas A. Basbanes' several books include Every Book Its Reader (2005).


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