Campus News

Longfellow's 200th Birthday To Be Celebrated Locally and Nationwide

Story posted February 01, 2007

The 200th anniversary of the birth of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow — one of Maine's most beloved native sons, and one of Bowdoin College's most illustrious graduates (Class of 1825) — will be celebrated both locally and nationwide during the month of February 2007.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during his Brunswick years. Courtesy of George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives.

Born in Portland, Maine, in 1807, Longfellow entered Bowdoin College at the age of 14. He accomplished something unprecedented as an undergraduate; the respected literary magazine, The United States Literary Gazette, published 24 of his poems and short prose.

He was in same class as Nathaniel Hawthorne (1825) and a year behind Franklin Pierce, who became the 14th President of the United States. The three knew each other at Bowdoin, but not very well. Their friendship would develop many years later in adulthood.

Longfellow's career as a writer began at Bowdoin, where he served from 1829 to 1835 as a young professor of modern languages and librarian.

He would later to go on to live and teach at Harvard. He returned to the College in 1875 to read "Morituri Salutamus" to mark his 50th Bowdoin Reunion.

The third annual Longfellow Days will celebrate the poet's "Brunswick Legacy" February 10 through February 27 with a wide array of cultural and community events, including films, lectures, poetry-readings, concerts, and exhibits. (See the complete list of public events in Brunswick below.)

The Inside Story on Longfellow's Bowdoin Days

"While [Longfellow] was here he did something unprecedented as an undergraduate: He published 24 of his poems and short prose in a respected literary magazine. I think he was marked out as an up-and-coming literary figure even then."

Find out all about Longfellow's Bowdoin days, in a Q&A with Charles Calhoun, author of Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life.

A bronze plaque commemorating Longfellow, designed by Bowdoin students working with A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art Mark Wethli, will be unveiled to close out the Longfellow Days festivities. The plaque is one of the first of a series to be installed in the sidewalks of downtown Brunswick as part of a planned literary arts walk. They will be set into the sidewalk at areas of high pedestrian traffic on lower Maine Street. The Longfellow plaque enshrines words from the poem "Keramos." Three other initial plaques will honor Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Robert P.T. Coffin '15. (Read more.)

The exhibition "Of Time, Place, and Circumstance: An Exhibition Celebrating the Bicentennial of Longfellow's Birth" will be on view on the second floor of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library on the Bowdoin campus. The exhibition, which will run from February 12 through June 4, will feature items from the College's Longfellow Collection, housed in the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives.

In addition to the public events, Longfellow Days will sponsor poets in residence in each of Brunswick's elementary schools February 12-16 and a program by Longfellow biographer Charles Calhoun at Brunswick High School.

A commemorative broadside illustrated by Deer Isle artist and engraver Siri Beckman will be available for purchase at Bayview Gallery throughout Longfellow Days. The 11" x 17" broadside is hand printed on Letterpress by Applecart Press with selected lines from Longfellow. The limited edition sells for $50, and the regular edition is $10. Call 207-729-5500.

Longfellow Days is sponsored by The Brunswick Downtown Association and Bowdoin College, and is supported by grants from the Davis Fund, the Senter Fund, and the Association of Bowdoin Friends.


©2006 USPS. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

The United States Postal Service will issue a Longfellow 2007 Commemorative Stamp March 15. Longfellow, called "the uncrowned poet laureate of 19th-century America," becomes the 23rd honoree in the Literary Arts series. The 39-cent stamp features a portrait of Longfellow over a background scene of "Paul Revere's Ride." Visit the USPS site to learn more.

The national Longfellow Bicentennial calendar includes major celebrations across the country. On February 27, "Longfellow Across America" encourages Americans of all ages to rediscover Longfellow's poems. Activities are scheduled for every school in the country that bears Longfellow's name; and regional and national weather forecasters have been provided with Longfellow poetry quotes to incorporate into their broadcasts ("Into each life, some rain must fall," for example). For a full list of events, including those planned for Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Harvard University, click here.

The January 2007 Smithsonian magazine commemorates Longfellow's bicentennial in the feature "Famous Once Again," which explains "why his poems became perennial." Read the article.

On February 1, 2007, the radio program "The Book Guys" featured an interview with Longfellow biographer Christoph Irmscher. Listen (Real Audio or MP3) here.

Saturday, February 10
Poetry Reading and Slam. Border Trust, 2 Main St., Topsham,1:30-4:30 p.m. Local published poets Herb Coursen, Maggie Finch, and Sherry Hanson will read and serve as judges for the poetry slam. Slam participants should bring four of their works to read, and sign up before 1:30 p.m. Organized by Just Write Books. Free.

"One if by land, and two if by sea;/And I on the opposite shore will be,/Ready to ride and spread the alarm..."

Family Movie Matinee: 'The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.' Frontier Restaurant and Theater, Fort Andross, Brunswick, 3-4:30 p.m. This documentary separates fact from poetic license and explores how Longfellow created a lasting legend with his account. Brian Hinds will read excerpts. Free.

Sunday, February 11
Poets in the Community. Curtis Memorial Library, Fireplace Room, 1-2 p.m. Local published poets Herb Coursen, Courtney Hill, and David Adams will read. Free.

Sunday, February 18
Poets in the Community. Curtis Memorial Library, Fireplace Room, 1-2 p.m. Local published poets Maggie Finch, Annie Finch, Joyce Pye, and Arnold Perrin will read. Free.

Friday, February 23
Longfellow Discussion. Biographers Charles Calhoun (Longfellow: A Life Rediscovered) and Christoph Irmscher (Longfellow Redux) discuss "Longfellow at 200: Why Henry Longfellow Was the Most Famous Bowdoin Graduate Ever." Location: Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, Nixon Lounge, 7-8 p.m. Calhoun and Irmscher worked together at the 2006 Maine Humanities Council Longfellow Institute sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Free.

A reception will follow the Calhoun/Irmscher lecture at Bowdoin College's Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, 2nd floor gallery exhibit, "Of Time Place and Circumstance." Bowdoin students will read from Longfellow's student letters. The Calhoun and Irmscher books will be available for sale and signing by the authors. Refreshments provided. Free. Read a Q&A with Charles Calhoun here.

Saturday, February 24
Longfellow's 200th Birthday Fete in Music and Dance. Visual Arts Center, Kresge Auditorium, Bowdoin College, 1-2 p.m. Performances by Maine's Poet Laureate Betsy Scholl, Donald Lipfert, The Ballet School, Center Stage Players, Bowdoin College woodwinds and a cappella group "The Longfellows," and more. Free.

"'O Csar, we who are about to die/Salute you!' was the gladiators' cry/In the arena, standing face to face/With death and with the Roman populace..."

Christoph Irmscher Lecture: Longfellow and Friendship. Visual Arts Center, Kresge Auditorium, Bowdoin College, 3-4 p.m. The Longfellow Redux author is Professor of English at Indiana University and curator of a Longfellow Bicentennial exhibition on view at Harvard's Houghton Library. Sponsored by The Association of Bowdoin Friends. Refreshments will be served. Free.

Sunday, February 25
Tour Longfellow's home in Brunswick at the Joshua Chamberlain House, Maine and Potter streets. Noon-3 p.m. Free. For more information call the Pejepscot Historical Society, 207-729-6606.

Poets in the Community. Curtis Memorial Library, Fireplace Room, 1-2 p.m. Local published poets Anne Hammond, Jeniferlee Tucker, Robert Chute, and David Matson will read. Free.

19th-Century Chapel Service. Bowdoin Chapel, 3-4 p.m. The Reverend Brad Mitchell reflects on Longfellow's life in Brunswick. Music by the Bowdoin College Brass Ensemble under the direction of Anita Jerosch; organist Andrea Printy; Donald Lipfert reading Longfellow; Liturgical dance by Moving Spirit, choreographed by Peg Brightman.

Tuesday, February 27: Longfellow's Birthday
Birthday Cake and Community Poetry Read. Unitarian Universalist Church, 15 Pleasant St., Brunswick, 7-9 p.m. Emceed by Gary Lawless of The Gulf of Maine Books, the festivities will start with readings by Brunswick school children of poetry written in their classes for Longfellow Days. Following cake, courtesy of Wild Oats Bakery, adult participants may read from poems or their own composition. The Longfellow sidewalk plaque will be unveiled.

In addition to the Bowdoin Library's "Of Time, Place, and Circumstance," the Maine Historical Society will install "Drawing Together: The Arts of the Longfellow Family" at 489 Congress Street, Portland. The exhibition, which explores the lives of Longfellow and his family through the art they created, will open on Longfellow's birth date, February 27. The Maine Historical Society and organizations around Maine will host exhibits, lectures, trips and other programs exploring Longfellow's poetry and legacy throughout 2007. For more information visit

Matthew Pearl, the author of the Longfellow-themed murder mystery The Dante Club, spoke at Bowdoin College's Common Hour November 19, 2004. Pearl's first novel was a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Dante Prize from the Dante Society of America. Listen to the Podcast here.

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