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|The Poets’ Niche - February 2012|
The Poets’ Niche
By Mark Sconce
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
For those sensitive Readers who yearn for a friendly verse, of poetic rhyme, of piquant turn of phrase, of unmuddled message and salubrious rhythm—a cousin to the Rhythm that pervades our cosmos and even our lives on planet Earth. For those befuddled Readers who squirm when reading a modern poet, a modern like, say, Federico Garcia Lorca, (1898-1936) Spain’s poet rage of a generation.
With a spoon he scooped out the eyes of crocodiles
And spanked the monkeys on their bottoms. With a spoon.
Fire of all times slept in the flints and the beetles drunk with anis
Forgot the moss of the villages.
Tr. Stephen Spender y J.L. Gili
For those bewildered Readers, I have just the anodyne poet. His works are all but lost to modern memories except yours and mine. Let us praise once more then, before he fades into star dust, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. What a life, what a man!
A son of Massachusetts, but a graduate of Bowdoin College in Maine, he went on to become a popular professor at Harvard and an Honorary Doctorate of Laws. He was clearly the most popular poet of his time and was hailed around the world as America’s first great poet. With such poems as The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, The Song of Hiawatha, Evangeline, The Wreck of the Hesperus, he engaged the imagination of a generation both before and after the Civil War. Column space permits just a few stanzas. Forget for a moment the jangle, din and shrieks of discordant modern life.
From the brow of Hiawatha
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
It was the schooner Hesperus that sailed the wintry sea;
He wrapped her warm in his seaman’s coat against the stinging blast;
At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach, a fisherman stood aghast,
When’s the last time you read the words “wealthy poet.” Almost seems like a contradiction in terms. Yet at his height, Long fellow could fetch $3,000 per poem! And at his death, he had over $350,000 in the bank, a tidy sum in those days following the Civil War.
Then from each black accursed mouth
And in despair I bowed my head;
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: