A Maine Historical Society Website
Visit MaineHistory.com

The Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Illustration and poem, Paul Revere's Ride, ca. 1880

Illustration, Paul Revere's Ride, c. 1880

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was America's most beloved nineteenth century poet and is an integral part of our culture today. In his best known poems, Longfellow created myths and classic epics from American historical events and materials — Native American oral history ("The Song of Hiawatha"), the diaspora of Acadians (Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie), and the first battle of the Revolutionary War ("Paul Revere's Ride"). He reminded Americans of their roots and in the process became an American icon himself.

Longfellow also influenced America's artistic and popular culture. His works inspired artists and composers, and his poems were read and recited not only in parlors and schoolrooms, but also at civic ceremonies. Schools, geographic locations, and ordinary products, even cigars, were named for him and for characters from his poems. In the 1870s, schoolchildren celebrated his birthday as if it were a national holiday.

His poetry has been a continuous presence in our language ever since. He is quoted by merchants and manufacturers on their products, by journalists and preachers in their articles and sermons, and by ordinary men and women in their daily lives. Some of his lines and phrases - "A boy's will is the wind's will," "Ships that pass in the night," "Footprints on the sands of time" - are so well known that they have entered the American language. Today they are often quoted without the speaker even knowing Longfellow penned the words.

The following pages examine Longfellow's impact on popular culture, and offer an in-depth examination of two of his more famous poems, Evangeline and "Paul Revere's Ride." Resources in this section are a filmography, a page dedicated to the many artists who have illustrated Longfellow's words, and a list of publications.

The information on the following pages was drawn largely from Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life by Charles Calhoun and from the text of the exhibit "Longfellow: The Man Who Invented America" curated by Joyce Butler in 2002. For more information on these and other sources, please see the bibliography.

In this section