The Big Read Blog (Archive)

With Love From Longfellow

Washington, DC


Fanny Appleton, courtesy of the Library of Congress

Happy Valentine's Day from The Big Read! What better way to celebrate the most romantic day of the year than with a love poem from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow wrote "The Evening Star" for his second wife, Fanny Appleton, whom he married in 1843 after seven years of courtship. In the poem, Longfellow compares Appleton to the evening star, called Hesperus in Greek mythology. This "star" is actually the planet Venus, itself named for the goddess of love.

Just as the radiant evening star illuminates the night, the gleam from Fanny?s window lights the darkness with a heavenly glow. This celestial comparison not only endows Fanny with the bewitching, mystical power of the cosmos, but suggests that their love transcends earthly parameters. Talk about a starry-eyed lover! When Fanny retreats from Longfellow in sleep, his night is dark indeed.

Lo! in the painted oriel of the West,
Whose panes the sunken sun incarnadines,
Like a fair lady at her casement, shines
The evening star, the star of love and rest!
And then anon she doth herself divest
Of all her radiant garments, and reclines
Behind the sombre screen of yonder pines,
With slumber and soft dreams of love oppressed.
O my beloved, my sweet Hesperus!
My morning and my evening star of love!
My best and gentlest lady! even thus,
As that fair planet in the sky above,
Dost thou retire unto thy rest at night,
And from thy darkened window fades the light.

Like so many great literary love stories, this one ends in tragedy. Fanny died in 1861 at the age of 43 after her dress caught fire from a candlestick. Longfellow never recovered emotionally, and addressed his grief in ?The Cross of Snow,? penned 18 years after his wife?s death. To learn more about Longfellow and his poetry, please check out The Big Read website.

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