Poesie: Longfellow’s Chaucer

Longfellow, for one, did not seem to associate Chaucer with the sounds and smells of 14th century London.

This is a rather interesting sonnet about Chaucer, given that he was a city-lad, so to speak, as opposed to the Pearl Poet, who would have been more of a country-person, though the two seem to have know each other.


An old man in a lodge within a park;
The chamber walls depicted all around
With portraitures of huntsman, hawk, and hound,
And the hurt deer. He listeneth to the lark,
Whose song comes with the sunshine through the dark
Of painted glass in leaden lattice bound;
He listeneth and he laugheth at the sound,
Then writeth in a book like any clerk.
He is the poet of the dawn, who wrote
The Canterbury Tales, and his old age
Made beautiful with song; and as I read
I hear the crowing cock, I hear the note
Of lark and linnet, and from every page
Rise odors of ploughed field or flowery mead.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow wrote rather educational sonnets on several English poets, but since he was one of the greatest American sonnet writers of the 19th century, his sonnets are much better poems than the adjective “educational” might suggest.

Longfellow 1868
Longfellow in 1868

Poesie: Remembering Rome Burned

On 19 July 64 A.D., Rome burned.  We thought it a worthy occasion to ponder something Mr. Longfellow wrote.

Michael Angelo: A Fragment


Michel piu che mortal, Angel divino.

Similamente operando all’ artista
Ch’ a l’ abito dell’ arte e man che trema.
~ DANTE, Par. xiii. st. 77.


NOTHING that is shall perish utterly,
But perish only to revive again
In other forms, as clouds restore in rain
The exhalations of the land and sea.

Men build their houses from the masonry
Of ruined tombs; the passion and the pain
Of hearts, that long have ceased to beat, remain
To throb in hearts that are, or are to be.

So from old chronicles, where sleep in dust
Names that once filled the world with trumpet tones,
I build this verse; and flowers of song have thrust

Their roots among the loose disjointed stones,
Which to this end I fashion as I must.
Quickened are they that touch the Prophet’s bones.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

Tacitus’ account of the event can be found on THE HISTORICAL DIARIES.  I got the featured image from that blog as well.

LINK:  Middle School Reading Lists 100 Years Ago vs. Today

Reason #73 as to why we prefer homeschooling.

Proper nutrition (and hygiene) is as essential for the mind as it is for the body and spirit.

“Human totalities are involved in metabolic exchanges with the world that includes also the air we breathe and exhale, the things we read, the ideas we accept as our own as well as what we see and hear.”  Horst Hutter, “Shaping the Future”

Below is the link.  Section 3, Reading Level is most revealing.

“…I decided to examine if the common accusation that today’s education standards have been dumbed down is really true. To make sure I wasn’t unfairly weighting this survey in favor of the past, I went to one of the Twin Cities metro area’s finest districts, namely, Edina Public Schools”

Source: Intellectual Takeout

Woods in Winter by H.W. Longfellow

Chill airs and wintry winds! my ear / Has grown familiar with your song; / I hear it in the opening year, / I listen, and it cheers me long.

We basically live in a clearing in the woods.  This poem very much rings true these days.


Woods in Winter

When winter winds are piercing chill,
And through the hawthorn blows the gale,
With solemn feet I tread the hill,
That overbrows the lonely vale.

O’er the bare upland, and away
Through the long reach of desert woods,
The embracing sunbeams chastely play,
And gladden these deep solitudes.

Where, twisted round the barren oak,
The summer vine in beauty clung,
And summer winds the stillness broke,
The crystal icicle is hung.

Where, from their frozen urns, mute springs
Pour out the river’s gradual tide,
Shrilly the skater’s iron rings,
And voices fill the woodland side.

Alas! how changed from the fair scene,
When birds sang out their mellow lay,
And winds were soft, and woods were green,
And the song ceased not with the day!

But still wild music is abroad,
Pale, desert woods! within your crowd;
And gathering winds, in hoarse accord,
Amid the vocal reeds pipe loud.

Chill airs and wintry winds! my ear
Has grown familiar with your song;
I hear it in the opening year,
I listen, and it cheers me long.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


What for? Integrity!

“Dust thou art, to dust returnest, /
Was not spoken of the soul.”

In the course of our studies, we happened across Longfellow’s A Psalm Of Life recently, and two stanzas stood out to us in particular because combined, they provide a nutshell-answer to the eternal question “What do I live for?”.  First the stanzas, then a short paraphrase:

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm Of Life”

The first quoted stanza conveys quite unmistakably that a man is more than his physical form.  While it is true indeed that we all are made of dust and will return to dust, the breath of life that was blown into us is not and does not.  The soul remains, unless I manage to offend the One that can destroy the body and the soul.

The second quoted stanza, then, defines what life down here is about: neither pleasure nor pain, but the process of becoming, one might say, what we were meant to be and what we were sent here for.  We are not down here to try and enjoy it all as best we can, regardless the cost, nor to endure everything resignedly without any efforts to make things better.

The goal is, in a word, integrity, that is, to grow in virtue every day, and by the time your time is up, have become the best version of yourself.  Why?  So that your soul may return to its maker better than it was when it left.


Featured:  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Statue

“Perched at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and M Street, the poet sits draped in his academic robe, staring out majestically from his tiny slice of traffic island. The statue was erected in 1909, and is said to be the country’s first statue commemorating a literary figure.”

For image and quote see Literary Landmarks in Washington @ www.arts.gov

If you are interested in the whole poem, you can find it and other information about it (for what it’s worth) in the “A Psalm of Life” Wiki entry.


%d bloggers like this: