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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published "The Day is Done" in 1844, as the "proem" (that just means the preface) to an anthology of poems called The Waif. Basically, this anthology was just a whole pile of poems by other authors that Longfellow really liked, and put together into a book. He added this one poem of his own at the beginning as a way of introducing all the others.
Now, we bet you've noticed that "The Day is Done" isn't a straightforward introduction. Longfellow doesn't say "Hi, I'm Henry Longfellow and I like these poems because they're pretty." This is much more subtle and poetic than that. He uses this intro to describe the kind of poems he's picked here, to prepare us for what's coming. (See our "Best of the Web Section" for a look at a copy of The Waif). Mostly, The Waif is full of a bunch of pretty sentimental nature poems, and Longfellow wants us to know that there's a time and a place for this kind of poem.
When Longfellow wrote "The Day is Done," he was a pretty young guy, in his late 30s, but he was already famous for writing simple, heartfelt poems. So while he's introducing other people's poems, he's also using "The Day is Done" to describe and defend his own poetic style.
It's not a real huge secret that a lot of people don't have much time for poetry. Maybe you've felt like that reading poems was boring or just something you had to do for English class. In that case, Longfellow has a message for you. He wants poems to be a part of our everyday lives.
Longfellow thinks that sometimes, after a long hard day, all you need is a good poem. Some people will try to convince you that a poem isn't good unless it's hard enough to make your brain bleed. Not Longfellow. He wanted to write poems that people would love and read all their lives – poems that would stick in your head, entertain you, and make you feel good. He was aiming for poems that would be pleasure, not a pain, and would make you want to come back for more.
Guess what? It worked. People loved Longfellow's poems while he was alive, and they have ever since. If you think poetry can be simple, beautiful, and meaningful all at the same time, then Longfellow's your guy. If you want to know what generations of people have found to love in these poems, then stick around and get to know him a little. We promise it'll be worth your time.
A Silent Film on Longfellow
This is a little odd, but fun too: a silent educational film from the 1920s about Longfellow's life. Kind of like an old-timey filmstrip.
Animated Photo of Longfellow Reading "The Day is Done"
These are a really big fad on the internet, although we're not exactly sure why. A little creepy, but it's a good reading of the poem.
A nice painting of a youngish HWL.
A photo of the poet as an older man, looking a little cranky.
Here's a scanned version of the anthology in which "The Day is Done" first appeared. It's worth a look through to see how this poem looked in the original.
Harvard Library Exhibit
A web version of a museum exhibit, filled with cool facts and images form Longfellow's life.
A website dedicated to Longfellow, created by the Maine Historical Society. Here you can find a bio, the texts of many of his poems, and other resources.