Comparison of Longfellow and Whitman


Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

"Song of Myself (1855)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

"Song of Hiawatha" (1855)

Thoughts on Found Longfellow "dapper, each other dainty, and effeminate ...

like the lord whose wife was advised to keep him dressed well, but never let him open his mouth."

Education Quit school at age 10 or 11

to work as an office boy and printer's assistant.

Family Father was a talented but not-too-successful carpenter who moved the family.

Not recorded.

Graduated from Bowdoin College.

Father sent him to Bowdoin College to train as a lawyer.

Teaching Starts teaching grade school experience on Long Island in 1836;

Southold incident in 1840.

Professor of modern languages at Bowdoin in 1829; professor at Harvard in 1836.

Marriage and home life

Never married; buys a "cheap lot" in Camden in 1874 (for $450).

Married twice, the second time to a Boston heiress whose father bought them Craigie House, a mansion in Cambridge.

Married twice, the second time to a Boston heiress whose father bought them Craigie House, a mansion in Cambridge.

Whitman's home in Camden

Longfellow's home in Cambridge

Whitman's home in Camden

Longfellow's home in Cambridge

Social Life

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Never a part of New York society or any group of poets.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Part of Boston society; worked with James Lowell and formed the Dante Society. Knew Emerson and Hawthorne.


Sales Figures

Never went to Europe.

795 copies of Leaves of Grass were printed in 1855 at $2 per copy (the price was steadily lowered through the first three editions—$1.00 and $.75 editions followed. More than likely sold a few hundred copies.

Studied languages in Europe for three years.

"Hiawatha" sold 10,000 copies in a month, 30,000 by June 1856; made $3,700 in 1855 and $7,400 in 1856 from poetry sales, thanks to "Hiawatha" success. His salary at Harvard, only $1,500 that year, was up to $1,800 after 1845.

Celebrity in November Boughs

(1888), he resigns himself to "future recognition," since he did not gain it in his lifetime; got 40 pounds from his English friends on his 72nd birthday.

Attained a private audience with Queen Victoria in 1868-9; his 75th birthday was celebrated nationally.

Immortality Many years after his death, finally became recognized as America's first poet. Generations have praised his assault on the conventions of literature and recognized his passion.

After his death the gentleness, sweetness, and purity that made his poetry famous, made it infamous. Throughout his work and his life, he was consistently high-minded, but conventional— untouched by the religious struggles that disturbed his contemporaries.

In fact, Whitman's mother and brother George thought there were great similarities as they leafed through "Hiawatha" and the 1855 Leaves of Grass. In George's words, "The one seemed to us pretty much the same muddle as the other."

However, what obviously makes the two poems different is that Whitman is much more graphic. There is tension, physicality and sexuality in Whitman's verse. Unlike in "Hiawatha" there seems to be a need for connection, and a need for dialogue between different groups. Whitman's poem presents a very interesting and subtle image of what is going on in the American mindset, and for this reason can be arguably considered the richer poem of the two. Whitman pushed the envelope in ways his contemporaries, like Melville and Poe, did not. None went as far as Whitman in terms of sexually graphic content, in terms of political radicalism, and in terms of fluid boundaries or, in fact, lack of boundaries.

In the next lecture we will look at the very beginnings of Whitman as a poet and ask the question, "What made this man consider a career as a poet?"

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