Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Three Friends of Mine

December 7, 2011

“Three Friends of Mine”

Longfellow outlived most of his friends including the three he considered his closest: Cornelius Felton, Louis Agassiz and Charles Sumner.  Written towards the end of Longfellow’s life, this set of five sonnets, written about his dearest friends, is a touching tribute to those who “have forgotten the pathway to [his] door.”  

When I remember them, those friends of mine,
Who are no longer here, the noble three,
Who half my life were more than friends to me,
And whose discourse was like a generous wine,
I most of all remember the divine
Something, that shone in them, and made us see
The archetypal man, and what might be
The amplitude of Nature’s first design.
In vain I stretch my hands to clasp their hands;
I cannot find them. Nothing now is left
But a majestic memory. They meanwhile
Wander together in Elysian lands,
Perchance remembering me, who am bereft
Of their dear presence, and, remembering, smile.

II.
In Attica thy birthplace should have been,
Or the Ionian Isles, or where the seas
Encircle in their arms the Cyclades,
So wholly Greek wast thou in thy serene
And childlike joy of life, O Philhellene!
Around thee would have swarmed the Attic bees;
Homer had been thy friend, or Socrates,
And Plato welcomed thee to his demesne.
For thee old legends breathed historic breath;
Thou sawest Poseidon in the purple sea,
And in the sunset Jason’s fleece of gold!
O, what hadst thou to do with cruel Death,
Who wast so full of life, or Death with thee,
That thou shouldst die before thou hadst grown old!

III.
I stand again on the familiar shore,
And hear the waves of the distracted sea
Piteously calling and lamenting thee,
And waiting restless at thy cottage door.
The rocks, the sea-weed on the ocean floor,
The willows in the meadow, and the free
Wild winds of the Atlantic welcome me;
Then why shouldst thou be dead, and come no more?
Ah, why shouldst thou be dead, when common men
Are busy with their trivial affairs,
Having and holding? Why, when thou hadst read
Nature’s mysterious manuscript, and then
Wast ready to reveal the truth it bears,
Why art thou silent! Why shouldst thou be dead?

IV.
River, that stealest with such silent pace
Around the City of the Dead, where lies
A friend who bore thy name, and whom these eyes
Shall see no more in his accustomed place,
Linger and fold him in thy soft embrace
And say good night, for now the western skies
Are red with sunset, and gray mists arise
Like damps that gather on a dead man’s face.
Good night! good night! as we so oft have said
Beneath this roof at midnight in the days
That are no more, and shall no more return.
Thou hast but taken thy lamp and gone to bed;
I stay a little longer, as one stays
To cover up the embers that still burn.

V.
The doors are all wide open; at the gate
The blossomed lilacs counterfeit a blaze,
And seem to warm the air; a dreamy haze
Hangs o’er the Brighton meadows like a fate,
And on their margin, with sea-tides elate,
The flooded Charles, as in the happier days,
Writes the last letter of his name, and stays
His restless steps, as if compelled to wait.
I also wait; but they will come no more,
Those friends of mine, whose presence satisfied
The thirst and hunger of my heart. Ah me!
They have forgotten the pathway to my door!
Something is gone from nature since they died,
And summer is not summer, nor can be.

Cornelius Felton (1807 – 1862) is buried in Lot 2640 on Bellwort Path.

Louis Agassiz (1807 – 1873) is buried in Lot 2640 on Bellworth Path. (Agasiz was Felton’s brother-in-law)

Charles Sumner (1811 – 1874) is buried in Lot 2447 on Arethusa Path. 

One Comment

  1. D.L. Camara says:

    How easily, caught up in today’s trivialities and our human fears; we forget the enduring truth of our hearts need for loving connection with one another. This is the first time I have ever read Mr. Longfellow’s “Three Friends of Mine” and his raw honesty, reawakens my mind and heart with memories I had thought to be buried along with those whom I have loved and lost.

    Thank you for reminding me, that when the heart lies fallow; the mind can begin to believe that emptiness is all that exists because that is what the eye physically sees. The compelling force of emotion, grace, beauty and truth of Mr. Longfellow’s words leap across eons and connect with my soul. Thank you so very much for this unexpected gift
    .
    Mount Auburn brings solace (to those remaining in this universe) in more forms than
    can even be initially realized.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *