Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Poetry
Dreams that Cannot Die

THE CHILDREN’S HOUR REDUX

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, widowed twice, was the most beloved poet in the world, an internationally respected scholar, and a single father of five. He immortalized his three precious daughters in his great poem "The Children's Hour,” a vision of children as pure and innocent, a vision that has shaped American attitudes.

Some 70 years later, Lillian Helman authored a stage play that referenced HWL's poem by using its title. Her reference was purposefully ironic; her play presents a young girl who is "The Bad Seed.” The play poses the existence of intrinsic evil, and its arc shows the unintended consequences that follow from the absence of the purity and innocence of Longfellow’s vision, of his daughters. In 2008, the poem and play were presented in tandem.

Longfellow's poem is presented as prologue, to establish the ground of innocence and delight against which all else is to be understood.
Following the ominous climax of the first act, the second act opens with rain and thunder on the soundtrack. The opening two stanzas of another Longfellow poem are read above the brooding storm:

"The day is cold, and dark, and dreary...
the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast....
My life is dark and dreary."
This is HWL’s“The Rainy Day” without his redemptive third stanza.

The play is humanizing in its effect on the contemporary audience, even as we feel the ravages of suspicion and prejudice. It shows us the progress we have made in the acceptance of “the other” and, presented with its poetic contrast, the evolution of our values across centuries.

Read The Daily Courier Articles on The Children's Hour:

 

 

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