Longfellow as Translator

Dong Xun (Tsung Hun, 1807-1892), calligrapher. Mandarin fan, ca. 1865.


Courtesy National Park Service, Longfellow National Historic Site LONG 23418

In October 1865 Longfellow received a fan decorated with a Chinese translation his "The Psalm of Life" by the calligrapher Dong Xun, an official at the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Dong Xun called his "Psalm of Life" "Ch'ang-yu-shi," which, translated literally, means "Tall Friend's Poem."

Longfellow, welcoming his "Chinese" poem in style, held a celebratory dinner to which he invited the historian John Gorham Palfrey (the postmaster of Boston), the writer and lawyer Richard Henry Dana, Jr., who had spent several months in China, and his friend Charles Sumner. The link between these anti-slavery men and Chinese culture was supplied by a special guest, Ansom Burlingame, the abolitionist and U. S. Minister to China. Catering was provided by Sumner's friend Joshua Bowen Smith, the mixed-race businessman and member of the Boston Vigilance Committee.