If you have ever heard someone make an unexpected rhyme during a conversation, you may have also heard someone say to them, you’re a poet and don’t know it, but you’re feet show it. They’re long fellows.

Don’t know what this means? Google it or better yet ask your parents.

Elementary school children were once taught the works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Not so they could pass a standardized test and obtain funding for their school district, but so that they could internalize the tales recounted by this great American poet and make them their own. “A Psalm of Life” “Paul Revere’s Ride” “The Song of Hiawatha” all wonderful examples of how story telling creates a sense of belonging and a common bond among people.

Longfellow, like many great writers, had a lot to say. His epic poems attest to that, and if he were alive today I wonder what he would have to say about our abbreviated communication. He might wonder how meaning can be fully expressed in a sound bite or why remarkable events aren’t passed on with greater concentration on context to generate discussion and provoke thoughtful examination.

Two-hundred and six years ago today, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born.  He lived six years short of a century, and in that time witnessed first hand terrific tragedy within and transformation of his country. Although no stranger to disorder, the dysfunction and disconnect so prevalent today would no doubt confound Longfellow, a man of great intellect and depth of character.  I imagine he’d write a poem like this:

Those Who Came Before

O’er the edge of a jagged cliff

The statesmen once did fall

Like lemmings to a gruesome death

Followed one and all

 Millions watched across the land

What reason they did fumble

Ne’er bothering to heed the call

To look before we tumble

 People sat inside their homes

Blinded by the glow

Of big screens with moving scenes

Clinging to the show

 Numbness fell upon them

In one great final knell

Not one of them had noticed

Their world had gone to hell

One song for all the people

A single sacred sound

The purpose to be peaceful

More singers gathered ‘round

 To break the grip of hatred

Voices join the chorus

Fear cannot claim our spirit

A brighter future for us

Short by comparison, but no less heartfelt, this, my humble offering in remembrance of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Today I am a poet. I know it. My words show it, but I’m no Longfellow. Can you imagine Paul Revere’s tweet? #homeland secure PR@1 by land 2 by sea. Don’t waste a minute man. Get your boots on the British are coming!


24 thoughts on “Remembering Longfellow

  1. Your imagining of Paul Revere’s tweet is hilarious! Thank you.

  2. This was absolutely spectacular! Even my kids (in their 30’s now) had only cursory brushes with the classics in school. They got more than this at home, I was disturbed by the lack so made certain they read from my library.

    1. Honie Briggs says:

      Thank you Val. It’s great you were aware that your children’s education needed to be supplemented.

  3. I’m not a poet, but I’m wise enough to know it. You, on the other hand, Madame Bard, can knock out a verse! Enjoyed this very much.

    1. Honie Briggs says:

      LOL TKO! HA~~Glad you enjoyed it. It’s funny, poetry rushes at me like a fighter bobbing and weaving until it forces me into submission. Not always worth publishing, but now and then I get lucky. Did you know that Longfellow was the first American writer to actually make a living from royalties?

  4. artsifrtsy says:

    Awesome Honie – I’d be lucky to assemble a lyric. I love the classics but even when I was in school I remember learning more about great literature than actually reading it.

    1. Honie Briggs says:

      Thanks Lorri. I know what you mean. Ones I remember most are Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tell Tale Heart, the dirge Thanatopsis and a weird short story by Shirley Jackson entitled The Lottery. Creepy, each about death, but I never forgot them. Oh, and of course Kipling’s If. LOVE

      1. artsifrtsy says:

        I remember those too, they stuck with me. I remember learning about Hemmingway and Harper Lee – but not reading them in school. We read Twain, Poe, Kipling.

        1. Honie Briggs says:

          Oh, the book report. I think I always chose the book with the fewest pages.

          1. artsifrtsy says:

            Didn’t we all? I liked to find a way to make one big book work for several classes – I think I spun The Divine Comedy into World Lit, History, Art History, and Political Science

            1. Honie Briggs says:

              Did you know that Longfellow was the first American to translate Dante’s The Divine Comedy?

              1. artsifrtsy says:

                No – I did not know that. I read the White version with the Dore illustrations. The pictures captivated me.

  5. Brigitte says:

    Honie, you are singing my song, friend. I have books and books of the classics, those words that teach us so much about ourselves and our society and our history. I love your poem, by the way and I worry about the generation who may not be exposed to great literature, but then I think I’m sounding like an “old” person. I read books that aren’t on the best-seller list, written by authors that still stay true to the format of good writing. And there is a format. Great job, you.

    1. Honie Briggs says:

      Thanks Brigitte. I’d rather have a library card in my wallet than anything else.

  6. Hala J. says:

    It’s really cool you’re talking about poets and poetry and offered one of your own (which, like everything else I’ve read of yours, is awesome and very true) when I just finished a post containing a poem I wrote myself. (I haven’t published it yet. It’s nearly 1:00 a.m and I’d rather save it and look over it tomorrow before punching the Publish button). Happy coincidence it seems.

    What’s sad is that even I, a lover of words, have—over time—begun to get bored with wordier spiels. I used to read even the longest comments without a second thought. Now I scroll through them because they lose me. My attention span has gone to the dogs and it’s bloody annoying. That’s why I’m glad I’m getting back into reading novels again. I need a way to keep my mind focused. Longfellow had it right.

    1. Honie Briggs says:

      You know Hala J., I think at some point each of us wants to say, “bottom line it for me, would ya?” The subject plays a huge role in whether or not I am willing to invest time in the “fine print”. But poetry I memorized as child has stayed with me, it’s part of who I am and I do believe it affects the cadence of my writing in ways I don’t fully recognize until I go back and read something I’ve written.

  7. mairedubhtx says:

    What a lovely tribute to the bard Longfellow. I remember him well from my school days. Fondly. Your poem was worthy of Mr. Longfellow. I wonder if he’s still taught in schools today? I suppose I could ask my granddaughters if they have heard of him but I’m afraid of the answer I’d receive. Sad tears.

    1. Honie Briggs says:

      True M~ entire decades worth of literature, art, science and history are compressed into 10 minute modules, if even taught at all. It is sad, as I’ve said before, no child left behind, just a trail of dusty brains.

  8. Absolutely loved this! Coincidentally, we’re studying poetry this week for my Lit. class. I really loved reading this post. Well done.

    1. Honie Briggs says:

      Thank you very much. When the mood strikes to write poetry, I cannot stop it. The last page of Summoning the Strength is a poem I wrote for my sisters. It fit with the story so well, I had to include it. You can read it here: https://honiebriggs.com/2012/03/16/life-right-on-time/

  9. "HE WHO" says:

    Like it? i LOVE IT!!! Some of the poetry I wrote was for a 3rd year creative writing class. My Rhodes Scholar professor, was a wonderful guy but culture bound among other things. He told me my poem “Gargantuan Eyes” was crap because it rhymed. My classmates, who were very protective of me (I was 15 to 20 years older than most of them) jumped all over the prof. Some of these kids were so talented their short stories and poetry would often make me cry or shake my head in awe. I mean “Who are we to argue with Longfellow? So i rewrote it, took out the rhymes, and compromised myself for a mark. But your poem is wonderful! Entertaining! Vindicating (for me)! Write more, please. Your poetry could be the best political satire of our age. .

    1. Honie Briggs says:

      He Who,
      Your comment makes me smile a gargantuan smile! Poetry is subjective, much like most everything else in life. Sometimes I find my prose has a sort of rhyming quality, I don’t plan it that way, I can’t help it and if a prof thinks it is crap, so be it. Longfellow was heavily criticized for his style “too European” or “too imitative rather than imaginative” WHATEVER! Unless we start creating a whole new language, everything that can be said about the human experience has been said in one way or another. What a great compliment you’ve given me. I’m wordy….too wordy perhaps. Thanks!

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