This year in Maine we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, America's most famous poet in the 19th century. Longfellow is not my favorite Maine poet (that honor belongs to Edna Millay), but I am getting caught up in the festivities. Longfellow looms large in Portland, the city of his birth (we ignore the fact that he turned his back on Maine and spent most of his life in Cambridge, Massachusetts). Each day I pass by his stately monument in Longfellow Square, across from the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, just down the block from Longfellow Books.
Today, Longfellow is by and large ignored in America, although he was a true rock star of his age. Even so, most older Americans will have read Hiawatha, and even school children today know Paul Revere's Ride. In Germany, Longfellow is virtually unknown, although a German translation of Hiawatha is still in print. But there was an interesting transatlantic friendship that changed the course of Longfellow's career and represents an important chapter in German-American literary influence.