My Books, by Longfellow

Sadly as some old mediaeval knight
Gazed at the arms he could no longer wield,
The sword two-handed and the shining shield
Suspended in the hall, and full in sight,
While secret longings for the lost delight
Of tourney or adventure in the field
Came over him, and tears but half concealed
Trembled and fell upon his beard of white,
So I behold these books upon their shelf,
My ornaments and arms of other days;
Not wholly useless, though no longer used,
For they remind me of my other self,
Younger and stronger, and the pleasant ways
In which I walked, now clouded and confused.


Commonly sonnets are written upon love; second-most commonly they are written upon death/mortality. Here, Longfellow writes upon–both, actually. Not romantic love, but any bookish person recognizes his love of books. And not quite mortality, but still a sigh for the loss of youth. This matter may have been well written using another form; but the sonnet form particularly suits it.

The poem is rather enjambed; but those familiar with reading sonnets should be able to read through the end of lines to the punctuation. If you are newer to enjambed lines, this is a good poem to start practicing with, as the lines breaks aren’t so disruptive as to make it difficult to understand the content of the poem (in contrast, Shelley’s Ozymandias, or Lewis’s sonnet cycle on grief both are very hard to follow if one halts at the end of each line). Practice reading it aloud, pausing only where punctuation asks you to pause. The rhyme manifests itself without being forced. Likewise the meter does not need to be overstressed; natural speech patterns produce the metrical rhythm by themselves.

I really enjoy this poem, and taste in it a foreboding of my own future. Alas, I am not nearly so vigorous a literary knight as he, and shall likely reach this state at an earlier age. Well–perhaps. May I continue to train, and adventure, and not let my mental limbs stiffen with premature age…

In the meantime, our new technology gives us an additional context for this poem, undreamt of by Longfellow: for as I peruse the many books on my Kindle, the bookshelf behind me bears long-untouched paper tomes from my younger years.


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