Academic journal article English Language Teaching

H.W. Longfellow: A Poetical-Dwelling Poet of Ecological Wisdom from the Perspective of Eco-Criticism

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

H.W. Longfellow: A Poetical-Dwelling Poet of Ecological Wisdom from the Perspective of Eco-Criticism

Article excerpt


Among a minority of Longfellow's studies in China and abroad, there has even scarcely been one made from the perspective of eco-criticism. Eco-criticism aims at exploring the relation between literature and natural environment to find out the ecological wisdom in literary works so as to awaken the ecological consciousness of the contemporaries. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a poet concerning much about nature, in his nature poems, shows the value of nature by evoking people's love and care for nature, and makes them reconsider the Man-Nature relationship so as to seek the ecological balance on earth, including that from within the human world. By reading Longfellow in the light of certain eco-ethical ideas, it is not difficult to discover the legacy glittering with ecological wisdom in his poetry. Such wisdom is highly connected with Longfellow's "environmental niche". Nowadays, with the increasing deterioration of the environment, the ecological wisdom implied in Longfellow's poetry is of tremendous significance.

Keywords: Eco-criticism, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poetical-dwelling, Environmental niche

1. Introduction

1.1 A Brief Introduction to H.W. Longfellow

Life is real-Life is earnest-

And the grave is not its goal;

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each to-morrow

Find us farther than to-day.

In the world's broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time;

Let us, then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

The excerpt above, taken from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem A Psalm of Life, is probably best embodied by what Longfellow fulfilled in his life.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), a famous American poet, was born to a lawyer family in Portland, Maine, United States. Quite rich as he was, he strived to study hard and fulfill his dream to be admitted to Bowdoin College at the age of 15, in the fall of 1822. Pursuing his literary goals by submitting poetry and prose to various newspapers and magazines, between January 1824 and his graduation in 1825, he had published nearly 40 minor poems. When he graduated from Bowdoin, he was ranked fourth in the class, and had been elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and gave the student commencement address. Like other writers and poets such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allen Poe in his time, life seemed to play jokes with him. He had experienced two tragedies in his life. In 1834, his first wife, Mary Storer Potter died of a miscarriage in Rotterdam, when he journeyed in Europe as a preparation before he took the chair of the Smith Professorship of Modern Languages in Harvard College. "He was deeply saddened by her death, writing 'One thought occupies me night and day... She is dead-She is dead! All day I am weary and sad" (Note 1). Three years later, he was inspired to write the poem Footsteps of Angels about her. The other tragedy is the death of his second wife, Frances Appleton, the daughter of a wealthy Boston industrialist. Perhaps his seven-year Long courtship of Frances Appleton foreshadowed their unhappy ending. In 1861, their happy life came to an end. Longfellow's wife died of burns she received when the envelope of her children's locks and curls, which she was sealing with matches and wax, burst into flame and spread to her dress. Devastated by her death, he expressed his grief in the sonnet The Cross of Snow (1879), which he wrote eighteen years later to commemorate her death:

Such is the cross I wear upon my breast

These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes

And seasons, changeless since the day she died. …

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