National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
The Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Nationality is a good thing to a certain extent, but universality is better. All that is best in the great poets of all countries is not what is national in them, but what is universal.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1855 (Photo courtesy the Longfellow National Historic Site)

  1. Why was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow so popular with his original audience? Which of these reasons remain valid today?
  2. Longfellow is often thought of as the poet who gave voice to the experiences and emotions of the common person. What examples of this do you see in his poetry?
  3. Poetry usually must be emotional to be effective, but some readers may then disapprovingly call it sentimental. Are there moments where Longfellow risks this accusation of sentimentality to make an emotional point?
  4. What might Longfellow’s Evangeline tell us about ethnic cleansing, about racial and religious persecution? How relevant is this poem for the 21st century?
  5. Longfellow was a national figure because he wrote for a diverse audience about broad themes. What contemporary writers or artists have a similar position today?
  6. In his poems and storytelling, what is Longfellow’s lasting cultural legacy?
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