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Longfellow Poem Analysis

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Analysis of Henry Longfellow's Poems

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Style

Henry Longfellow uses many different styles of writing, such as free-verse. He wrote many poems about his family and current events that inspired him, like the Wreck of Hesperus. Longfellow wrote a few poems about the loss of his wife and daughter. He uses foreshadowing in many of his poems to give the reader hints about how the story ends.  

Theme: In 1839, Henry Longfellow found out about a shipwreck off of Norman’s Reef in Massachusetts. Many bodies had washed ashore with the remains of the ship, called the Hesperus. Longfellow was intrigued by the story and decided to write a poem about it. I think the theme of this poem is about pride and to listen to your elders. The young captain believed he could face the fierce storm, even though the experienced sailor warned him not to. In the end, it cost him his ship and many lives.
Literary Devices: There are many literary devices, such as foreshadowing and similes. Foreshadowing occurred in the poem when the old sailor warned the captain of the hurricane. The author used similes to better describe the daughter, ship, and storm. The author used the simile, "She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed," to tell the reader that the ship was shaking and moving slowly, as if she was afraid to move on. 

The Wreck of the Hesperus

Analysis: The captain of the Hesperus set sail with his daughter and crew. Before they left on their voyage, an old sailor warned them that a hurricane was coming. "I pray thee, put into yonder port, for I fear a hurricane." They left anyway, but soon found out he was right. The ship was tossed around by the turbulent waves and the captain feared for his daughter. His crew was being tossed around easily, so he tied his daughter to the mast so that she wouldn’t be thrown overboard. The ship was pushed towards the rocks, and the captain and crew were thrown into the sea. "Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept, Tow'rds the reef of Norman's Woe." The mast snapped in half and was found floating with the daughter on it the next morning. Even though the author doesn't state the fate of the daughter, I believe she was found dead because she was described as peaceful when she was discovered:

The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

The Wreck of Hesperus

Theme: I think the theme of this poem is about the doubtful thoughts that a parent has as they grow older. Longfellow wrote this poem about his children and the haunting questions he has about their future. He cares about his children and wonders how they will be able to cope once he dies. A Shadow is a very deep and thoughtful poem.

Literary Devices: This poem has foreshadowing because the author is talking about the untold future of his children. "Be comforted; the world is very old," rhymes with "Thousands of times has the old tale been told;". 

A Shadow

Analysis: This poem is about the uncertainty of a child's future. Longfellow had six children, and would wonder what would happen to them when he died, "I said unto myself, if I were dead, What would befall these children? What would be Their fate," He wonders who will be there to give them advice and guidance. "Their lives, I said, Would be a volume wherein I have read But the first chapters, and no longer see To read the rest of their dear history," This means that Longfellow lives long enough to see the beginning of his children's lives, but he won't be around long enough to see how their story ends. When the author says, "A troop of shadows moving with the sun;" he means that no matter how much he longs to stay with his children, time continues to pass with the shadows. 

A Shadow

Theme: I think the theme of this poem is about how much Longfellow cares for his daughters. Every day he sets aside time from his study to play with them, when most wealthy parents didn't in those days. It shows the joy they get from spending time together, and how closely bonded the family is. Longfellow wrote this poem with himself as the main character, and used his daughter's real names. 

Literary Devices: In this poem Longfellow uses imagery to create a vision for the reader, "The patter of little feet." Longfellow also uses metaphors like, "They enter my castle wall" to show that he is wholeheartedly playing along with the girl's make believe game. 

The Children's Hour

Analysis: The poem starts by describing how Longfellow sets aside time to play with his children every evening. "Comes a pause in the day's occupations, That is known as the Children's Hour." He is sitting in his study when he hears little feet running down the stairs towards him. He describes his daughters as, "Descending the broad hall stair, Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra, And Edith with golden hair." Longfellow knows by the look on their faces that they are planning to attack him, even though they are trying to be sneaking. He goes along with it as they rush into the room and overcome him. "They enter my castle wall! They climb up into my turretO'er the arms and back of my chair;" This is the part of the day that the author looks forward to, and he shows that when he says:

I have you fast in my fortress,

And will not let you depart,

But put you down into the dungeon

In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,

Longfellow wants to lock his daughters into the dungeon of his heart because he never wants to lose them. He had already lost one daughter and his wife, so he hopes he will never have to lose anyone again.


The Children's Hour

Theme: I think the theme of this poem is that we construct our own fate. According to Longfellow, the material we use to build our fate is time. The poem gives advice on how to make each day mean something and describes each day as a building block.  Once you place your block of yesterday, you have to move on and try to make tomorrow's block stronger. 

Literary Devices: In this poem, Longfellow rhymes the last word of the second and fourth line in every stanza.

The Builders

Analysis: I think this poem means that everyone builds a fate for themselves, like architects. "Some with massive deeds and great, Some with ornaments of rhyme." The people that build a simpler life are the ones that strengthen and support the rest. Each day is like a block that you stack to build a greater structure, "Our to-days and yesterdays, Are the blocks with which we build." You can shape this structure however you want and chose which paths to follow. Also, you should do every job well because you never know who is watching, "Let us do our work as well, Both the unseen and the seen; Make the house, where Gods may dwell, Beautiful," If you don't, your life could become meaningless and you could be stuck in the walls of Time. "Else our lives are incomplete, Standing in these walls of Time," 

The Builders

Theme: I think this poem is about the circle of life and excepting the death of those you love. The author trys to explain that Death really isn't cruel, but it is kind because it takes people to the fields of light above. Longfellow was very familer with loss and death, and I think that is why he wrote this poem. 

Literary Devices: The author uses a metaphor when he describes children as flowers. Also, the last word in each line rhymes with the next alternating line:

 There is a Reaper, whose name is Death,
And, with his sickle keen,
He reaps the bearded grain at a breath, 
And the flowers that grow between.

The Reaper and the Flowers

Analysis: I think this poem describes Death as an Angel that needs to be excepted. Longfellow uses flowers to represent children that are taken by the Reaper. In the poem, Death has to explain to the mothers of the "flowers" that they will see each other again in the "fields of light". The Reaper is sad to take the children away from their tearful mothers, but tells them that his Lord is in need of the children because they are dear tokens of earth. "He gazed at the flowers with tearful eyes, He kissed their drooping leaves; It was for the Lord of Paradise, He bound them in his sheaves." Death didn't come in cruelty or wrath, but as an angel sent by God to take the flowers away. 

The Reaper and the Flowers