The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (190721).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.
§ 12. Sonnets.
|After the appearance of the translation of Dante and of the Christus, two works de longue haleine which show that the retired professor of nearly twenty years standing was not open to the charge of idleness, Longfellow had still about a decade to live and to continue his writing. Some of the titles of his collections of verse have been already given; others are The Masque of Pandora, and Other Poems (1875), Kéramos; and Other Poems (1878), Ultima Thule (1880), and In the Harbour (1882posthumously). The first of these volumes contained one of the most dignified and impressive of all his poems, one of the best occasional poems in American literature, the Morituri Salutamus, written for the semi-centennial of the poets class at Bowdoin. It also contained A Book of Sonnets, fourteen in all, considerably extended in number in later editions of the poetical works. Some notable sonnets had been published with the translation of Dante, and to these Longfellows later achievements in the same form are worthy pendants. High praise has been given to them by many critically minded readers of a later generation, who have wished, in default of admiration for Longfellows earlier work, to combine patriotism with acumen in their praise of a poet whose reputation seemed to require rather delicate handling. Both the sonnets and their American encomiasts are fortunately unamenable to comments lacking in amiability, although it is open to doubt whether even such a pathetic sonnet as The Cross of Snow, written at the close of the poets life in memory of his unfortunate second wife, will ever mean to the great public what The Bridge and The Day is Done have meant. It is perhaps more to the purpose to express satisfaction that the poet was capable of making the double appealto the reader who thinks he knows what to think and to the reader who knows he knows how to feel.