Poetry Review: “Ultima Thule” by Henry W. Longfellow

HWL_1940_Issue-1c2Longfellow is long out of fashion. His extravagant language, highlymemorizable rhyme schemes, and classical themes place him squarely within a poetic movement long left for dead. Reaction to his poetry created the Imagist movement… created modern poetry as we know it. And yet to have so many react so strongly… must mean something.

Living as I do now in the North Country (the land of Hiawatha), just a bit south on the map it seems at times of ultima thule, Longfellow cannot be easily ignored. Nor should he I think. There are few pleasures from my childhood as great as walking down the street singing lines from Paul Revere that I had memorized.

On a day when many of us are remembering, a poem about time and aging and the “undiscovered country” that we are all sailing toward seems like just the thing.


Ultima Thule
With favoring winds, o’er sunlit seas,
We sailed for the Hesperides,
The land where golden apples grow;
But that, ah! that was long ago.
How far, since then, the ocean streams
Have swept us from that land of dreams,
That land of fiction and of truth,
The lost Atlantis of our youth!
Whither, ah, whither? Are not these
The tempest-haunted Orcades,
Where sea-gulls scream, and breakers roar,
And wreck and sea-weed line the shore?
Ultima Thule! Utmost Isle!
Here in thy harbors for a while
We lower our sails; a while we rest
From the unending, endless quest.

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