Birds of Passage – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1807-1882 was an American poet who wrote the famous poems, The Song of Hiawatha and Evangeline. He mostly wrote lyric poems known for their musicality, although he did experiment with other forms of poetry such as hexameter and free verse and his published poetry shows great versatility.  His poems were often about mythology and legend. Longfellow was one of the five Fireside Poets who were the first American poets whose popularity rivalled that of British poets. He was the most popular poet of his day and had success overseas but was accused of imitating European style and for writing for the masses.

Longfellow was also important as a  translator, translating Dante Alighieri’s, The Divine Comedy. His popularity declined shortly after his death and into the twentieth century. Twentieth century poet Lewis Putnam Turco harshly concluded, “Longfellow was minor and derivative in every way throughout his career… nothing more than a hack imitator of the English Romantics.”


Birds of Passage – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Black shadows fall
From the lindens tall,
That lift aloft their massive wall
Against the southern sky;

And from the realms
Of the shadowy elms
A tide-like darkness overwhelms
The fields that round us lie.

But the night is fair,
And everywhere
A warm, soft vapor fills the air,
And distant sounds seem near;

And above, in the light
Of the star-lit night,
Swift birds of passage wing their flight
Through the dewy atmosphere.

I hear the beat
Of their pinions fleet,
As from the land of snow and sleet
They seek a southern lea.

I hear the cry
Of their voices high
Falling dreamily through the sky,
But their forms I cannot see.

Oh, say not so!
Those sounds that flow
In murmurs of delight and woe
Come not from wings of birds.

They are the throngs
Of the poet’s songs,
Murmurs of pleasures, and pains, and wrongs,
The sound of winged words.

This is the cry
Of souls, that high
On toiling, beating pinions, fly,
Seeking a warmer clime.

From their distant flight
Through realms of light
It falls into our world of night,
With the murmuring sound of rhyme.

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