Sunday, September 18, 2016

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882): The Two Longfellows

Presented are two poems written by Longfellow,  one published in 1836 and one published some forty years later.  I wonder what has happened to bring about such a change in perspective.


Longfellow the Younger


A Psalm of Life
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.


This was published in  1838 when Longfellow was 31.






Longfellow the Elder

The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls

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, the sea in the darkness 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 poem was published in 1879, when Longfellow was 72 years old.  He died three years later in 1882.



An image brought up in both, but with a different conclusion to the latter.

 Longfellow the Younger

"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."



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

His view of those footsteps in the sand has changed somewhat, it appears.  

10 comments:

  1. "time and tide wait for no man"; the eternal burden of mortality, living a life of it's own through human simulacra; like puppets dancing to the "music of the spheres"...

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    Replies
    1. Mudpuddle,

      "'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
      Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
      Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
      And one by one back in the Closet lays."
      --Rubaiyat, First Edition, Quatrain XLIX

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  2. No one who lives into his 70s is the same as when he or she was 30-something. However, in Longfellow's case, we would need much more information to determine what (if) changes in life affected his poetry. Off the top of my head I would offer two points: (1) his life was lived during very difficult times in the United States (e.g., abolition movement, Civil War, presidential assassination, etc.); (2) American literature made seismic shifts in the middle of the 19th century, and Longfellow's popularity evaporated with changing tastes and interests (e.g., Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, etc.). Nevertheless, Fred, your thoughtful posting and the compare-contrast approach to the two poems opens up a very interesting avenue of inquiry; I have a few sources on my bookshelves, and I will see if I come up with some ideas in response to your posting. Well done!

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    Replies
    1. R.T.,

      Those who are the same at 70 as they were at 30 something must have spent those intervening years in a coma, regardless of external events, or so I think. But, as you say, those years that Longfellow lived through were momentous times--the Civil War alone would have had a major effect on anyone.

      I am much interested in what your research brings up.

      And thank you for your kind words.

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    2. tx for the historical pov... informative and explanatory. i'm reminded of the ancient Chinese curse: "may you live in interesting times..."

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  3. Replies
    1. Mudpuddle,

      Yes, the Present is definitely interesting, and it may be even more so in a few months.

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  4. FYI: Today's posting at Solitary Praxis is about Longfellow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. R.T.,

      I shall be sure to check it out.

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