Back when they were putting the Harvard Classics together Longfellow was classed with the poets, but I think he should be classed (instead? no, also!) with the pop artists -- like Capras or Goffin/King, guys who know how to put the hay down where the goats can get at it. While artists like these have cooler contemporaries (Whitman, Sturges, Holland/Dozier/Holland), there's still something pleasurable about them.
Today Longfellow is building a ship. The ship stands for the Union. We know this because he tells us, twice:
"Choose the timbers with greatest care;All caps in the original; Longfellow's not one of these guys who's going to wait around for you to get it. But if a ship bearing symbolic freight isn't enough for you, maybe you'd like some...romance:
Of all that is unsound beware;
For only what is sound and strong
To this vessel shall belong.
Cedar of Maine and Georgia pine
Here together shall combine.
A goodly frame, and a goodly fame,
And the UNION be her name!
For the day that gives her to the seaWell, handing over the daughter doesn't seem that romantic to us, but she doesn't seem to mind:
Shall give my daughter unto thee!’
Like a beauteous barge was she,I'm not much at courtin', but I never thought to compare a girl to a barge before. Have any readers tried that? I would be interested to know the result.
Still at rest on the sandy beach,
Just beyond the billow’s reach;
Was the restless, seething, stormy sea!
Note also that Longfellow changes the length of his lines and his rhyme scheme -- this is what I mean by saying he's a pop artist, a lesser talent would be more monotonous. Another nice detail, much later, when the boy/ocean-girl/boat metaphor is reintroduced, is the admission that sermons are boring:
The worthy pastor...The ship then, at the end, turns around and becomes a metaphor for the nation again. And yet the bride and groom seem to come from the same New England town; you'd want one of them to be from Alabama or something. But who am I to say? All of this ship-of-state stuff, and the New England-ness of it, reminds me of this Donald Hall poem (after Horace) that my dad once gave me:
Spake, with accents mild and clear,
Words of warning, words of cheer,
But tedious to the bridegroom’s ear.
Ship of state, hightide rising
carries you off again, far
from land. When you packed
to Virginia's shore, whole
cloth expanded under blue
heaven. New England's
gentry constituted you
of stout pine and steam-bent oak
for the seasonal
but not to withstand the rage
that your cargo turns on you
as you divagate
on the greedy fitful winds
of your final century.
I beg you to sink