The Fireside Poets and the Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem "The Song of Hiawatha" presents a romanticized version of Native American life and worldview. The epic is, however, rooted in real Native American beliefs and traditions, and does incorporate some anthropological data such as Ojibwa language. Of all the Fireside Poets, Longfellow is the only one to delve as deeply into Native American culture. Longfellow uses the vehicle of poetry as a means to generate appreciation for the Native American psyche and way of life among his primarily white readership. Given the popularity of the Fireside Poets in England, too, Longfellow's work went a long way in creating as accurate a portrayal of Ojibwa culture as would be possible from a European/American perspective. The medium of poetry proves especially effective in achieving the goal of romanticizing Native American life, given the predominance of storytelling and verbal narrative among Ojibwa and other Native American societies. The other poets in the Fireside group attended to themes that only tacitly deal with Native American life. Nature themes are shared in common among the Fireside poets; characterizing their work as romantic. For example, James Russel Lowell writes about the erratic New England weather in "Under the Willows." John Greenleaf Whittier likewise liked to pen poems about the weather, such as the 1866 "Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl." Oliver Wendell Holmes's work is less overtly romantic, and more to the point and encompassing of

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