The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XII. Longfellow

§ 5. Ballads

In 1842 a third visit was made to Europe, this time a short one for the sake of health. It was preceded by the Ballads and Other Poems (1841), and followed by the Poems on Slavery (1842). These justly enhanced his reputation, but the meritorious anti-slavery verses proved no prelude to active participation in the great conflict that was leading up to the Civil War. The prior volume with such pieces as The Village Blacksmith, God’s Acre, Maidenhood, and the egregiously anabatic Excelsior, strengthened his hold upon the popular heart, and in the successful ballads proper, such as The Wreck of the Hesperus and The Skeleton in Armor, it gave him, in addition, some incentive to address his readers in narrative verse, the form of poetry in which, during his middle period, he made himself easily the chief American master. Neither in these earlier volumes, to which may be added The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems (1846), nor in Evangeline (1847) and succeeding tales in verse, did Longfellow show himself to be a consummate metrical and verbal artist of the highest order or a poet of sustained imaginative flight; nor was he, in compensation, one of those writers who produce a strong effect through their subtle knowledge of human character or their exceptional ability to describe and interpret nature or their profound understanding of a country or a period. Yet even in these particulars he was capable of exhibiting distinguished merit—witness his command of the simpler rhythms, his wide-reaching metrical experimentation, his feeling for the sea, his sympathetic attitude toward the Middle Ages displayed in The Golden Legend (1851), his presentation of the larger natural features of America in Evangeline—and in his lyrical appeal, especially through his semi-didactic poems of reflection and sentiment, as well as in his general narrative power, he was during his life, and he still remains, unapproached by any other American poet.