From Portland to Cambridge
Portland, Maine, was where Longfellow became a poet, long before he had ever written a line-a tangle of sights and sounds, a misty backdrop to feelings he would be able to articulate fully only much later. His father discouraged him from leading a "literary" life, and Longfellow met him at least half-way when he became a professor of modern languages, first at Bowdoin College and then-until his resignation in 1854-at Harvard University.
Although he returned to Portland for visits, the center of his life became Craigie House, the Georgian mansion in Cambridge where he had first taken lodgings in 1837. He would experience much sadness there (notably the deaths of one of his daughters and his wife). But he loved the large rooms, the lilac bushes, the buttercups in the grass outside, the omnipresent associations with the colonial past, specifically George Washington, who had resided there from 1775 to 1776, as well as the closeness to the cosmopolitan city of Boston, where he would go to the harbor to hear the sailors speak in their native tongues and inhale the scent of exotic teas.
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HWL. Autobiographical fragment, undated.
Although he left Portland behind in 1835, the memories of his early years there stayed with Longfellow for the rest of his life:
"Out of my childhood now rises in my memory the recollection of many things, rather as poetic impressions than as prosaic facts. Such are the damp mornings of early Spring, with the loud crowing of cocks, and the cooing of pigeons on roofs of barns. Very distinct in connection with these are the indefinite longings incident to childhood; feelings of wonder and loneliness, which I could not interpret, and scarcely then took cognizance of. But they have remained in my mind."
Longfellow Papers MS Am 1340 (145) folder 4