An Open Letter to Longfellow

16 April 2013

        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.  

    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 2013. They thought it was cool (which means "powerfully good" in our day). 

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



  1. I think Longfellow would appreciate the fact that you edited a word for the greater good. Now your students have experienced a wonderful piece of literature. Otherwise, they would STILL be giggling :)

    My Kinder-Garden

    1. Thank you, Crystal! I'm trying hard not to feel guilty!

  2. Sigh... My iPad does not play nicely in the blogspot sandbox. I thought I was responding to this and it hopped on down to the poem in your pocket. As I was saying, I think he would approve. Thanks for the smile. :)

    1. I think he would be happy we are still reading his poem all of these years later :)

  3. This made me smile :) It's fascinating the way language changes over time


    1. That's so true,Lynn! It's fascinating to look at some of the words that were so innocent in the past, and aren't anymore.

  4. I love this! Same goes in fifth grade! :)

    1. Oh yes! Fifth graders couldn't handle it either :)

  5. This made me laugh so much! I do not thing Longfellow would mind at all, it was for the greater good! I found you through Tpt & I am your newest follower! :)

    Fashion Craze Learning Days

  6. Thank you, Melissa! I'm so glad you don't think he would hold it against me!

  7. The title of your blog is precious! I just connected to follow you. :)
    Creating Lifelong Learners

  8. Thank you, Brandee! I'm on my way to visit you right now :)

  9. Hilarious! Thanks for sharing!

    Pamela K, the same thing happened to me, but I noticed before I submitted the comment! :-)

    Mme Aiello @ Teaching FSL

  10. I just found you through Currently and I loved reading your blog about Longfellow's poem. I've taught 5th so I do know what you mean. I am so glad there are teachers who teach the older students. I have found my place in 1st and love it. Although I do miss teaching American History.
    First Grade by the Sea

  11. OhMyGolly...
    This was a GREAT post! I read it aloud (honest!) to the Hubs and we both enjoyed it tremendously!
    I am SO glad I found your blog and I am glad to be a new follower.
    AND I am certain that Longfellow was more that delighted with your conversation...

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade