Archive for the ‘Longfellow’ Category
For my own amusement, I keep track of Longfellow sightings, especially those from modern authors; and I keep track of Sicily references too, having family there. I note, then, the following from Mary McCarthy, her late memoir How I Grew (1987):
I am not sure where I found Longfellow’s Tales of a Wayside Inn, containing as one chapter “The Saga of King Olaf”; I had hated “Hiawatha,” all too reminiscent of the civics of Minnehaha Park and Minnehaha Falls, but I loved those tales, and they are the main reason I know something of European history — Normans, popes, and German emperors. It was a shock, then, to discover rather recently that “Robert of Sicily, brother of Pope Urbane and Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine,” who learned the lesson of humility one Easter Sunday in Palermo, who was not an historical figure; all my life, from the age of twelve on, I had been taking him for a minor Angevin.
Found this steel engraving of Longfellow today in Graham’s Magazine (vol. 22, no. 5 [May 1843]); it accompanied an unsigned essay on the poet. Longfellow didn’t think much of it — to say the least. In a letter to Samuel Ward, he complained:
Why did you let Griswold have that head of me by Franquinet, to engrave for Graham’s Magazine? Do you know what the engraver has made of it? Why, the most atrocious libel imaginable; a very vulgar individual, looking very drunk and very cunning! An unredeemed blackguard air hovers over the whole. Now, when I think that forty thousand copies of this thing — this tasteless caricature — are to be printed and distributed through the country as my “counterfeit (very counterfeit) presentment,” I am in an indescribable agony. I solemnly protest against this whole proceeding, and shall write Graham this very day to prevent the publication.”
Obviously, his protest didn’t go very far, though it may explain the note of apology with which the essay ended:
The likeness which accompanies this, we are sorry to say, is not a very good one. Though correct, perhaps, in the general outline, Mr. Franquinet has failed to give that refined and poetical expression of his original which attracts the regard of every one who sees him in person.
These lines from “Morituri Salutamus” (1875) seem appropriate:
In mediaeval Rome, I know not where,
There stood an image with its arm in air,
And on its lifted finger, shining clear,
A golden ring with the device, “Strike here!”
Greatly the people wondered, though none guessed
The meaning that these words but half expressed,
Until a learned clerk, who at noonday
With downcast eyes was passing on his way,
Paused, and observed the spot, and marked it well,
Whereon the shadow of the finger fell;
And, coming back at midnight, delved, and found
A secret stairway leading underground.
The pinky ring intrigues me, but I won’t delve any further. In Longfellow’s poem, the curious clerk is soon struck dead!
From Poems of Places, vol. 27, America: Middle States (Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Company, 1879), edited by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
[Fire Island, N.Y.]
I am tempted to call Fire Island the most haunted spot in American literature: two notable writers met their end there, one at sea, the other on land — and these were gruesome deaths as well. In 1850, Margaret Fuller drowned just offshore. Her body was never recovered, but others from the same ship — including that of her son, Nino — washed onto the beach where Frank O’Hara would be struck by a jeep in 1966.
O’Hara died young — he was 40 years old — and before the great majority of his writing had seen print. This surely added to the sense of emergency that attended his loss. According to O’Hara’s biographer, Brad Gooch, three of the poet’s friends — Kenneth Koch, Frank Lima, Larry Rivers — took possession of the manuscripts in fear that they would be destroyed or disappear.
Fuller, also 40, had published more extensively than O’Hara (three books and a great many uncollected essays), but in her case an important manuscript did disappear: her history of the Italian revolution, in which she participated as a director of one of Rome’s hospitals during the street fighting. The copy of her book that Fuller carried across the ocean sank, and no other copy ever came to light, despite the assiduous searching of her friends. From letters, and from Fuller’s dispatches for the New-York Tribune (the same newspaper for which Marx would later write), we have a good sense of what she witnessed. But what she learned after, and what she withheld, and what she made of it all in hindsight, these are gone for good.
The gruesome facts of O’Hara’s death were not set aside or forgotten in the grief over his loss. His death came in a hospital after 40 hours of intense pain, and O’Hara’s friends were witness to that suffering. Larry Rivers was especially graphic in his eulogy, evoking O’Hara’s mangled body for the assembled mourners: Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been meaning to write about this surprising new edition of Longfellow’s Dante, brought out by Del Rey Books, the science fiction imprint of Random House. And yes, it’s a video game tie-in.
I’m not a player, so I can’t say anything about the game (this is not snobbery on my part, I’m inept — I haven’t tried a game since pinball made me its Charlie Brown) … but the treatment of the text is loving. If that’s any indication, the game must be terrific.
The cover copy is priceless: “The Literary Classic That Inspired the Epic Video Game from Electronic Arts.” And likewise the back: “The timeless classic of a journey through the horrors of hell … The action adventure blockbuster that’s rocking the video-game world.” Included: a 16-page full-color insert, with screen shots of the game and art by William Blake and Gustav Doré. The effect reminds me of Deadliest Warrior: there too a little research heightens the pleasure of make-believe — a geeky dress-up pleasure in that case, pop mythology in this one.
And there’s also an introduction, a good one, by Jonathan Knight, the game’s executive producer, and also — I love this — a note on the text. Unless I’m missing something, no individual is credited, but someone went to Harvard and looked at Longfellow’s papers: the annotations are as Longfellow wanted them, and for the first time. I’ve seen less credible texts on college syllabi. 
I wanted to spend some time with this edition and with the game’s website — and some of the online commentary — before writing this post, but I’ve been busy with end-of-semester stuff. Meanwhile, Frank Frazetta died today, at age 82. It seemed appropriate to mention the book in his memory. I’ve never played video games. But Conan? Bran Mak Morn? Yeah, I’ve spent some time in those worlds, which I associate as much with Frazetta as I do with their creator, Robert E. Howard. I wouldn’t have thought before now to link Howard with Dante, but Howard’s publisher, Del Rey, has done that for me, by way of Frazetta. Take a look at the image below, and then at the new Longfellow cover. Frazetta’s art is clearly an inspiration. If not directly, then through a chain of artists who influenced artists who influenced the artists at Electronic Arts.
Enjoy a long afterlife, Frazetta.
1 [Back to text] Del Rey’s website lists Matthew Pearl and Lino Pertile as authors, and it would make sense if they had a role in the editing — Pearl wrote The Dante Club, a novel in which Longfellow is a character, and Pertile teaches Dante at Harvard — but I can’t confirm that.
From Poems of Places, vol. 1, England 1 (London: Macmillan and Co., 1877), edited by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
To A Bird That Haunted the Waters of Laken in the Winter
O melancholy bird, a winter’s day,
Thou standest by the margin of the pool;
And, taught by God, dost thy whole being school
To patience, which all evil can allay:
God has appointed thee the fish thy prey;
And given thyself a lesson to the fool
Unthrifty, to submit to moral rule,
And his unthinking course by thee to weigh.
There need not schools nor the professor’s chair,
Though these be good, true wisdom to impart:
He who has not enough for these to spare
Of time or gold may yet amend his heart,
And teach his soul by brooks and rivers fair:
Nature is always wise in every part.
— Lord Thurlow
For me this has been a more difficult year than most, beginning with my father’s stroke in February; then continuing through spring, when his survival was still uncertain; then through summer, when I was packing up his apartment; then through fall, as I waited for bed space to open up in a local nursing home. I’m still waiting.
Luckily for me, and thankfully for my father, numerous friends have helped in a substantive, ongoing way all through this travail, especially Bob. Bob’s loyalty to my father has been — there’s no other word for it — epic. “A poem including history,” if I can quote the old fascist in this context (Bob being a cousin of Joseph Rosen, and my father… well, I’ve written about that before).
Anyway, friendship aside, and perseverance aside, I’m glad that 2009 is done; pulverized into sand and trickled away. Now, instead of turning the glass over, let’s smash it, and learn to measure time in a new way.
Looking for an appropriate new year’s poem, I kept coming back to the one below. Not that my friends and loved ones are more dead than living — though I did lose my mother-in-law this year; I think of her often — only that “mist and shadow” block my sun. Temporarily, no doubt. 2010 is bound to bring more light. More clarity, if not more happiness, but more happiness surely. In the meantime, in loving memory of all those who did pass, here’s a poem written by Longfellow in 1870, when he was 63 years old, in the midst of a long twilight that began about nine years before, with the death of his beloved Fanny:
After so long an absence
At last we meet again:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?
The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet’s two or three berries
In the top of the uppermost bough.
We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
How old and gray he is grown!
We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.
We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.
And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
From Poems of Places, vol. 14, Spain 1 (Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Company, 1877), edited by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Fabius, if tears prevent thee not, survey
The long dismantled streets, so thronged of old,
The broken marbles, arches in decay,
Proud statues, toppled from their place and rolled
In dust, when Nemesis, the avenger, came,
And buried, in forgetfulness profound,
The owners and their fame.
Thus Troy, I deem, must be,
With many a mouldering mound;
And thou, whose name alone remains to thee,
Rome, of old gods and kings the native ground;
And thou, sage Athens, built by Pallas, whom
Just laws redeemed not from the appointed doom.
The envy of earth’s cities once wert thou, —
A weary solitude and ashes now.
For fate and death respect ye not: they strike
The mighty city and the wise alike. Read the rest of this entry »