When I stumbled upon the statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow while visiting my daughter in Portland, Maine, I had no idea of the depth of his influence on American culture. I had heard the name throughout the years but I was never really sure of who he was or what he wrote. As I child I remember learning the poems of Robert Frost, Carl Sandberg, and Emily Dickenson. I had never heard any poems or words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or so I thought!

In fifth grade we did an extensive study on the historical places of the Twin Cities. We visited Minnehaha Falls and I saw the statue of Hiawatha carrying Minnehaha. I remember learning "The Song of Hiawatha" but I did not recall that was the work of Longfellow. What a beautiful tale and arguably the best selling American poem of the 19th century. In reality, Longfellow had never visited Minnesota. Longfellow had read the Indian works of Henry Schoolcraft. Schoolcraft and then Longfellow, inaccurately translated some of the Indian words and names. The Ojibwes lived in Minnesota but Longfellow used Iroquois translations.

In Minnesota we have entire industries and places named because of this poem-the Hiawatha light rail line for example. Many critics felt that Longfellow had plagerized the works of others when he wrote this poem. He was accused of taking the Finish epic Kavelala and combining it with the story of an Algonquian culture hero named Nanabozho. Longfellow argued that this was not the case. Others, like Roy Harvey Pearce, felt that Longfellow had changed the way Americans looked at Indians. They were no longer loveless savages. The poem was very popular for decades. In the twentieth century it was ridiculed for its childlike rhyme and rhythm.

Longfellow did love his children and it was often reflected in the poems he wrote. I remember as a little girl, my mom reciting to us when we misbehaved, "There was little girl, she had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good, when she was bad she was horrid." I assumed she had made up the poem for my sisters-they both had curly hair and were much naughtier than me, the girl with the straight hair! I had no idea I was being exposed to the works of Longfellow!

Another Longfellow poem, "I Heard the Bells" has become a beloved Christmas song. What a sad story behind the words he wrote. The death of his beloved wife and a wartime injury to his son, gave Henry reason to doubt life and God. In the end, he rejoiced for God and the good of mankind.

Longfellow was ahead of his times with his disdain for slavery, misunderstanding of Native Americans, and empathy for the Acadians. He wrote his "Poems for Slavery" to spread his views on abolition. "The Song of Hiawatha" teaches us about Native Americans, and "Evangeline" tells us the plight of the Acadian settlers. He was kind, passionate, and understanding to those who were mistreated. His travels through Europe gave him exposure to different cultures. He learned many languages and studied many literary works.

Longfellow often used his poetry as a way to tell the story of others. Who could forget the words, "Listen children and you shall hear the midnight ride of Paul Revere." It was forty years after Paul Revere died that Longfellow penned those famous words. Revere remained mostly unrecognized for his deed until this poem was written. As critics have pointed out about much of Longfellow's work, he only got part of the story right. Because of his popularity many people believed that Longfellow's works were an accurate historical tale. Paul Revere was only one of three messengers sent to alert John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the British Army's plans to arrest them. Through Longfellow's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" we have forgotten about the other riders and people involved. It may not be entirely accurate, but without the poem many may have forgotten about the riders that alerted Hancock and Adams. We would have forgotten this important moment in history without Longfellow!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has been called the "most popular poet of the 19th century" and yet there are many literary critics of Longfellow's work. Henry was friends with many of the great writers of the century. His friends included Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and at one time, Edgar Allen Poe. Poe had once been a student of Longfellow's works but even he turned against the prose of Longfellow by calling his work "incendiary doggrel." Poe even questioned if Henry even knew what being a poet meant. Once popular in classrooms, many feel his legacy has been forgotten because of Modernist critics. My Comp II textbook makes no mention of Longfellow. Charles Calhoun has recently written a book titled "A Rediscovered Life: Longfellow", in it he says "It would be an exaggeration to say that Longfellow invented America. But that he imagined and perfected and made memorable to many aspects of how America is conceived remains his most enduring achievement."

The average person can relate to and enjoy Longfellow's writings. Longfellow used simple metaphors, personification, and symbolism that brings ease in understanding. The rhythm of his poems is upbeat and happy. For a man that endured so much sadness in his life, he has left us with encouraging words. His poem "Psalm of Life" includes the often quoted line "Footprints on the sands of time." Who hasn't heard these sayings, "All things come round to him who will but wait" and "It takes less time to do a thing right then it does to explain why you did it wrong"-both quotes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

My journey through the writings of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has only just begun. I want to know more about this man! I want to read more of his poetry. I want to go back to Portland, Boston, and Cambridge and see the things that Henry saw. I don't care what some critics say, I think he is incredibly fascinating. In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done"-so I will be my own judge of this American Icon.