March brings an unusual confluence of poetry and politics.
On March 4, 1789, the U.S. Constitution came into effect as the governing document for the newly formed nation.
March 21 is recognized as World Poetry Day and March 24 marks 138 years since the death of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82), who was one of 19th century’s foremost poets.
When I was commissioned to photograph Longfellow’s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I decided to train my camera on specific locations that served as sources of inspiration for his writing. As far as I know, this had not been done before.
The house was conveniently located near Harvard University, where Longfellow taught. But, for Longfellow, another key attraction to the house was that it had served as George Washington’s military headquarters during the Siege of Boston (July 1775 to April 1776).
In 1844, the Longfellows acquired the pictured bust of Washington, which is a plaster copy of the one sculpted by Jean-Antoine Houdon. Its location by the staircase is no accident. Indeed, the bust and staircase inspired Longfellow to compose the following passage in his lengthy poem To A Child:
Once, ah, once, within these walls,
One whom memory oft recalls,
The Father of his Country, dwelt.
And yonder meadows broad and damp
The fires of the besieging camp
Encircled with a burning belt.
Up and down these echoing stairs,
Heavy with the weight of cares,
Sounded his majestic tread;
Yes, within this very room
Sat he in those hours of gloom,
Weary both in heart and head.
It is rare when one can closely observe such a personal object or location that sparked the creativity behind a world-renowned poem.
The photograph is also rare in that it has never been exhibited or published in the media.
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