The Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11519

"Most famous" is often hard to categorize but, poet-wise, most would say Longfellow was the nineteenth-century winner. He certainly had the longest name! Study his poems and teach your teacher, too!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Who do you think is America's most famous poet?

Walt Whitman at National Portrait Gallery

Image by Thomas Buchanan Read, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

If you lived in the latter half of the nineteenth century, your answer to the question of who is America's most famous poet might very well have been Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Born in 1807, Longfellow rose to prominence as a professor, author, and poet. He was a master of languages and taught at Harvard for decades before resigning to dedicate his time to his literary pursuits. He was one of the best-selling writers of the mid-nineteenth century, and some of the phrases in his poems are still in frequent use today, such as, "Into every life, a little rain must fall."

To learn more about Longfellow's life, read "The Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow" from the Maine Historical Society. Be sure to click on the four links at the bottom of the webpage to read about Longfellow's childhood, studies at Bowdoin and travels in Europe, his life in Cambridge, and his elder years. As you read, answer the following questions on a separate sheet:

  • How did Longfellow remember the order of his siblings' birth when he was a child?
  • In what activities did Longfellow like to engage as a child?
  • How old was Longfellow when he published his first poem, and what was the subject of the poem?
  • What other famous writer graduated in the same class as Longfellow from Bowdoin College?
  • What subject did Longfellow teach at Bowdoin and Harvard?
  • What happened to Longfellow's first wife?
  • In what period of his life was Longfellow most productive in his literary career?
  • What did Craigie House become a symbol of for readers of Longfellow's poetry?
  • For what reason did Longfellow grow his beard?
  • Why did Longfellow write fewer original poems in his later years?

Discuss your responses with your parent or teacher.

Now that you've learned about Longfellow's life, learn about his poetry. Watch Poetic Techniques by Alvin Lu (below) and read "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - Writing - Style" from Liquisearch. As you watch the video and read the article, take notes on any poetical terms that you are unfamiliar with. You may want to pause the video to take notes. Also, write down the themes that Longfellow used in his poetry. You will use the notes to help you with the activities in the Got It? section. (The video will start automatically at 1:14):


When you have taken your notes, discuss your findings with your parent or teacher. Was there any poetic technique with which you were unfamiliar? Did any of Longfellow's themes surprise you? Discuss your reflections with your parent or teacher before moving to the Got It? section to read some of Longfellow's famous poems.

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