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Catawba Wine
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

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Henry Wadsorth Longfellow 1807 to 1882
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was perhaps the first American poet to gain high regard and fame during his own lifetime.  Popular both in his native land and Europe, Longfellow's two most well-known poems established Paul Revere (“Paul Revere's Ride”) and the Native American Indian princess Hiawatha (“The Song of Hiawatha”) as icons of early American myth and legend.  In a more scholarly vein, Longfellow was the first American to translate Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy and held professorships at several universities.

Longfellow is poetically promoting our native grapes and wine in this poem, while degrading the imports of the “Old World”.  His tongue-in-cheek association of European wines as “Borgia wine” is a reference to the infamous Borgia family of the 15th Century, who provided the world with two popes and much political intrigue, including murder by lacing an enemy's drink (such as wine) with poison.

The “Beautiful River” referred to in this poem is the Ohio River, in Longfellow's time located in the Western region of the USA.

- S. H. Bass  

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Catawba Wine
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), American poet
reading of Longfellow's Catawba Wine
This song of mine
Is a Song of the Vine,
To be sung by the glowing embers
Of wayside inns,
When the rain begins
To darken the drear Novembers.

It is not a song
Of the Scuppernong,
From warm Carolinian valleys,
Nor the Isabel
And the Muscadel
That bask in our garden alleys.

Nor the red Mustang,
Whose clusters hang
O'er the waves of the Colorado,
And the fiery flood
Of whose purple blood
Has a dash of Spanish bravado.

For richest and best
Is the wine of the West,
That grows by the Beautiful River;
Whose sweet perfume
Fills all the room
With a benison on the giver.

And as hollow trees
Are the haunts of bees,
For ever going and coming;
So this crystal hive
Is all alive
With a swarming and buzzing and humming.

Very good in its way
Is the Verzenay,
Or the Sillery soft and creamy;
But Catawba wine
Has a taste more divine,
More dulcet, delicious, and dreamy.

There grows no vine
By the haunted Rhine,
By Danube or Guadalquivir,
Nor on island or cape,
That bears such a grape
As grows by the Beautiful River.

Drugged is their juice
For foreign use,
When shipped o'er the reeling Atlantic,
To rack our brains
With the fever pains,
That have driven the Old World frantic.

To the sewers and sinks
With all such drinks,
And after them tumble the mixer;
For a poison malign
Is such Borgia wine,
Or at best but a Devil's Elixir.

While pure as a spring
Is the wine I sing,
And to praise it, one needs but name it;
For Catawba wine
Has need of no sign,
No tavern-bush to proclaim it.

And this Song of the Vine,
This greeting of mine,
The winds and the birds shall deliver
To the Queen of the West,
In her garlands dressed,
On the banks of the Beautiful River.

from The Complete Poetical Works Of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1902)

Project GutenberFREE E-Books at Project Gutenberg
of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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   Longfellow: Poems and Other Writings (Library of America)

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