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Longfellow’s Popular Appeal

The popularity of Longfellow’s poems results from his stress on the values of the people.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) was perhaps the best-known American poet of the nineteenth century. His clear writing style and emphasis on the prevalent values of the period made him popular with the general public if not always with the critics. He was particularly recognized for his longer narrative poems Evangeline, The Song of Hiawatha, and The Courtship of Miles Standish, in which he told stories from American history in terms of the values of the time.

Evangeline was set during the French and Indian war (1754–1763), when the British forced French settlers from Nova Scotia; two lovers, Gabriel and Evangeline, were separated by the sentimental, undying love, Evangeline was immensely popular with the public.

In The Song of Hiawatha, Longfellow depicted the nobile life of the American Indian through the story of the brave Hiawatha and his beloved wife Minehaha. The tear-inspiring poem follows Hiawatha through the tragedies and triumphs of life, ending with the death of Minehaha and Hiawatha’s departure into the sunset in his canoe.

The Courtship of Miles Standish takes place during the early period of settlement of New England, a period which was viewed as a time of honor and romance. In this poem centered around a love triangle, Miles Standish asks his friend John Alden to propose to Priscilla Mullins for him; John Alden ends up marrying Priscilla Mullins himself, and it takes time for his friendship with Miles Standish to recover. As with Longfellow’s other narrative poems, the emphasis on high ideals and romance made the poem extremely popular.