Saturday, March 03, 2012

Schoolroom Poets

This week was the birthday of two of the four New England Poets also known as the Schoolroom Poets, the Fireside Poets, and the New England Brahmins:  James Russell Lowell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Coincidentally, my American literature classes were studying them this week, supporting the idea that these poets are still studied in (some) schoolrooms.  I have written about Longfellow several times over the years, but haven't really mentioned the others.  Longfellow seems to be my go-to poet of the four, but I do like the others too--as much for their contributions to life in general as for their poetry.

Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Greenleaf Whittier are the other two who make up this interesting quartet.  As poets go, these two made more impact in other areas than in poetry--Holmes in the area of medicine and Whittier in the area of civil rights (abolition of slavery).  And yet, a Holmes poem saved "Old Ironsides," though, and we know what it was like to be snowbound in New England because of Whittier.

Sunday was Lowell's birthday.  Lowell, who with his friend Holmes, co-founded the prestigious and influential Atlantic Monthly, and was responsible for launching the careers of many a writer.  Here's a poem of his that speaks to me:


My heart, I cannot still it,
Nest that had song-birds in it;
And when the last shall go,
The dreary days to fill it,
Instead of lark or linnet,
Shall whirl dead leaves and snow.
Had they been swallows only,
without the passion stronger
That skyward longs and sings,--
Woe's me, I shall be lonely
When I can feel no longer
the impatience of their wings!
A moment, sweet delusion,

Like birds the brown leaves hover;
But it will not be long
Before their wild confusion
Fall wavering down to cover
The poet and his song.

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