An Open Letter to Longfellow

        Who doesn't love the coming of April? Ignore tax day and consider that April is National Poetry Month. April also brings the showers that promise May flowers. 

     Some of you are wondering why I've just reminded you of tax day and rain. 

     I didn't mean to make you sad. I promise this is going somewhere better.

     April 18th is also the anniversary of the event commemorated in one of my favorite poems to teach, Paul Revere's Ride
    I'd like to honor Revere, Longfellow, and suburban middle schoolers everywhere, by resurrecting one of my readers' favorite posts. Enjoy!

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, I did you a favor. 

    Just like you did Paul Revere a favor, by making him the hero of your narrative poem, instead of poor neglected William Dawes or Samuel Prescott (both of whom also rode on that fateful night, but were sadly overlooked).
                         
     Before I go into the specifics of the favor, let me preface this post by assuring you that I do not condone the "watering down" of texts. I encourage students to read so-called banned books and then ask them to decide for themselves. When Tom Sawyer was altered to remove the racial slurs that were part of the vernacular of the time, (Yes, Longfellow, that did happen. And no, I can't believe it either.) I was as appalled as every other English teacher. Anybody who messes with Twain has some explaining to do, in my book. 

     So, Longfellow, call me a hypocrite, but before I read Paul Revere's Ride, I eliminated a word.  


    Why? 

    Well...I read the poem aloud. 


    And... Longfellow, you used an old fashioned word for rooster. 


    And ...I teach 7th grade. Seventh grade suburban kids.


    So I did the unthinkable. I censored you, Longfellow. 
    
     There were only good intentions behind my decision. The kids love to hear the poem read aloud. They enjoy the suspense and drama. If I had left the word in, well, that would have been the end of our exciting glimpse into that fateful ride on the evening of April 18th, 1775. I would have completely lost the entire class. You see, that word is not really a nice word to say in 2013. 

     I know I shouldn't feel guilty. After all, Longfellow, you also employed poetic license by changing history to suit your narrative. You would understand that art is fluid, alive, and (I suppose) subject to change.


     Longfellow, I like to think that you would not make that particular word choice if you were writing the poem today. In my mind, I imagine you are thankful that your poem is a source of joy and inspiration, instead of ridicule. 

    So, Longfellow, if you are reading my blog from the Pearly Gates, I altered your famous poem for the good of your own reputation as a poet. Your poem, written all the way back in 1861, ended up being a big hit with the 7th graders of 2015. They thought it was cool (which means "powerful good" in our day). 


     They did have one suggestion though, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. They think we should do something about your name.

1 comment

  1. Your post is very poetic itself! Thank you for a breath of fresh English Teacher air! :)

    -Lisa
    Mrs. Spangler in the Middle

    ReplyDelete

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