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Today, a fine sonnet by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote it while on an extended trip to Germany. And while it contemplates the passage of time and his eventual death, it implies that he still has a ways to go to reach death "far thundering from the heights", thereby giving him time to create the amazing body of poetry he planned on in his youth.

The title is drawn from the work of Dante Allighieri; specifically, from the first sentence (first line, even) of Inferno, which reads Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/ mi ritrovai per una selva oscura/ che la diritta via era smarrita. ("In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood with the right road lost."). I know lots of us have been there, in a very specific version of a mid-life crisis where we question whether we've followed the right path, or strayed off course in our lives.

Here's Longfellow's marvelous poem:

Mezzo Cammin
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Half of my life is gone, and I have let
  The years slip from me and have not fulfilled
  The aspiration of my youth, to build
  Some tower of song with lofty parapet.
Not indolence, nor pleasure, nor the fret
  Of restless passions that would not be stilled,
  But sorrow, and a care that almost killed,
  Kept me from what I may accomplish yet;
Though, half-way up the hill, I see the Past
  Lying beneath me with its sounds and sights,—
  A city in the twilight dim and vast,
With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights,—
  And hear above me on the autumnal blast
  The cataract of Death far thundering from the heights.

Discussion: As you can tell from Longfellow's indented lines, which separate the poem into four sections - two with four lines and two with six - this is an Italianate or Petrarchan sonnet, which uses the rhyme scheme ABBAABBACDCDCD - the same scheme followed in yesterday's selection, Sonnet 28 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Thanks to the use of a trochee in the front of the first line (DUM-ta), it's not immediately apparent that the poem is written in the traditional iambic pentameter (five iambs per line, ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM), but it is.

You should know that Longfellow returned to the U.S. after writing this poem, where he became a professor at Harvard and starting publishing his poems to great acclaim (and fortune). He also translated works of Dante Alighieri and Michelangelo. Clearly, his tower was built a bit later than anticipated, but it was built nevertheless.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup can be found at Laura Purdie Salas's blog, which you can reach by clicking the Poetry Friday box, below:



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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mary Lee Hahn
Apr. 28th, 2013 01:50 pm (UTC)
So good to have you back in the PF roundup, Kelly! I've missed you. I always learn so much from you!!
kellyrfineman
Apr. 29th, 2013 03:17 pm (UTC)
Aww . . . thanks, Mary Lee!!
lpsalas
Apr. 29th, 2013 01:36 am (UTC)
This is a beautiful one, Kelly. Thanks for sharing it. As a 46yo, those final three lines might haunt me a bit in the coming days! --Laura Salas
kellyrfineman
Apr. 29th, 2013 03:18 pm (UTC)
Just know that if you are hearing those last three lines, so was Longfellow. And that was BEFORE so much of his major success!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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