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| Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: A Poet in Motion Essay

Henry Wadsworth Long fellow was born on February 27, 1807 and died on March 24, 1882. He was an American poet—he was one of the Fireside poets—and educator. He was regarded as the most famous poet of his time, and he remains one of the most celebrated figures of all times in literature.

Wadsworth published his first poem in November 17, 1820, when he was still only 13 years old. It was titled The Battle of Lovell’s Pond and was published in the Portland Gazette. The poem is aliment for the colonists who were killed by yelling savages.

The Battle of Lovell’s Pond as Aliment for the Colonists

In the poem, the first stanza captures the wind of the north, describing it as fearfully cold, and giving off a rude blast. This wind is like a loud and fast hurricane as it moves through tall waving pines, moaning in the process. In the second stanza, Mr. Longfellow describes the battle as being over. He describes the war-whoops as being still, and the savage’s yell having suck into silence along the wide hollow. He further writes that the tumult, the din of the battle, is over, and concludes the stanza by saying that the war-clarion’s voice could no longer be heard. In the third stanza, he writes about the fallen warriors and how it is impossible to distinguish them from their dead enemies. The warriors, who fought for their country and died for it, had “sunk to their rest”, with the damp earth being their bed. No one could tell where their ashes lay, and neither could they distinguish between their graves and their foes. In the fourth stanza, the fallen soldiers are glorified. They died in glory and were surrounded by fame. Their death sounded the horn for their victory. In spite of their death, they live inside every patriot, and their names are all engraved in people’s memories with honor.

The poem has a musicality to it, especially in the first stanza: “Cold cold is the north wind, and rude is the blast.”This is a style that grew into most of his later works. Another style is rhymes; Mr. Longfellow uses several rhymes in the poem, like “blast” and “fast” in the first stanza, “yell” and “dell” in the second stanza, “Bled” and “bed” in the third stanza, and “fame” and “proclaim” in the last stanza. He also uses personification, when he gives the wind a human trait, saying “it moans through the tall waving pines.” He uses the third-person speaker in narrating the poem. The poem can be considered racist, as it portrays the Native Americans as savages while showing the patriots as heroes. The point-of-view is of the colonialists and not the Native Americans. In the third stanza, the fallen warriors could not be distinguished from their dead enemies. This is a symbol of wars, where both sides become united; once they die—they are no longer fighting for opposite causes.

Mr. Longfellow uses imagery in this poem. This can be observed in the first stanza, when he describes the wind. The readers can almost feel it blow against their faces, and almost hear its moan.

The Story of a Native American Hero in The Song of Hiawatha

The Song of Hiawatha was published in 1855. It comprises of 22 parts, and it tells the story of a Native American hero. The story begins when the Great Spirit, Gitche Manito, called the vengeful and warring tribes together, scolding them for their improper, childish behavior and telling them of a prophet who will guide and teach them, called Hiawatha.

Mudjekeewis, the warrior, became the Father of the Four Winds after he splayed Mishe-okwa, who was the Great Bear of the mountains. His son Wabun – also the East Wind – fell in love with a beautiful maiden that he turned into the morning star. She was called Wabun-Annung. Her brother was Kabibonokka, the North Wind, and the bringer of winter and autumn. He attacked Shingebis, who was “the diver”. Shingebis repelled him, first of all, by burning firewood and, secondly, in a wrestling match. Shawondasee was a third brother. He fell in love with a dandelion, wrongly thinking that it was a golden-haired maiden.

In Chapter III of the long poem, there was a woman named Nokomis, who fell from the moon. She gave birth to Wenonah, who grew up to be a strikingly gorgeous young woman. Nokomis warned her not to be seduced by the West Wind, since she could sense his evil intentions; however, Wenonah did not listen to her mother’s warning.

Mudjekeewis, the West-Wind, seduced Wenonah and then left her die, heart-broken and deserted after giving birth to Hiawatha. Hiawatha, reared by Nokomis, grew to manhood and obtained magical gifts and powers that would enable him to perform all of his extraordinary deeds.

Through the supernatural adventure tales of his fishing for sturgeon, using a picture language and building a canoe, the readers are shown how the American Indians learned to perform these arts and, as a result, were blessed by them. For instance, Hiawatha’s care for his people was shown through his prayers and fast on their behalf. He started to wonder why life always depended on the slaughtering of animals for survival, due to his experience. He then met an angelic young man who was dressed in yellow and green, whose name was Mondamin. In the story, Mondamin challenged Hiawatha to wrestle. In spite of the fact that Hiawatha was quite exhausted from the fasting, he miraculously received renewed strength and stamina throughout the ordeal. After he defeated Mondamin and buried him as per instruction, corn grew from the grave, and it provided the much sought after supplement to animal flesh.

Hiawatha soon became a peacemaker when he wedded Minnihaha, the exquisitely beautiful maid from the Dacotah tribe. This marriage cemented peace between these two traditionally hostile tribes; therefore, it helped to usher in a time of utmost harmony and peace. Their wedding was celebrated in such a manner that established a pattern to follow, especially with many beautiful tales and songs. In time, there came fever and sickness that killed many people including even Hiawatha’s bride, and the poem ended with the dramatic exit of Hiawatha into the sunset.

This is one of the most influential works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Just like The Courtship of Miles Standish, it puts the Native American under a positive light, during an era when racism and slavery was still quite rampant. This is an entertaining poem that can be read by people of different ages and from all walks of life, and it is this universality that made it such a valuable work. Hiawatha is viewed a sympathetic character, and thus more modern, in that the writer, Longfellow, anticipated the political correctness of the twenty-first century. In addition to that, the translation of The Song of Hiawatha into several international languages endorsed the story as a cultural object, and one whose faults were only those common to the narrative process. The many translators of the book have acceded that the faithfulness between the actual characteristics of Native Americans and Longfellow’s interpretation of them in the book empowered and enabled their translations.

A Modern Conception of Native Americans in the Book

For instance, John Derbyshire, in his article for the New Criterion (2000), wrote that Longfellow gave a genuine voice of “Indianness” and that the book gave a modern conception of native Americans. He went as far as to contrast the view of the Native Americans from a Miles Standish viewpoint—he viewed them as nothing more than simply treacherous, cruel and boastful savages—to the view of Hiawatha—who viewed Native Americans as noble savages who had a rich oral culture.

There are several stylistic devices used in the telling of this poem. For one, there is repetition, such as:

“I have given you lands to hunt in,

I have given you streams to fish in,

I have given you bear and bison,

I have given you roe and reindeer,

I have given you brant and beaver,”


“Came the warriors of the nations,

Came the Delawares and Mohawks,

Came the Choctaws and Camanches,

Came the Shoshonies and Blackfeet,

Came the Pawnees and Omahas,

Came the Mandans and Dacotahs,

Came the Hurons and Ojibways.”

Another example of style used is rhyme. There are extremely few examples of rhymes used, but one is:

“Who shall guide you and shall teach you,

Who shall toil and suffer with you.”

The writer also uses metaphors, such as the phrase: “From his footprints flowed a river”. The poem is written in the form of a free verse, as the majority of the poem consists of lines and stanzas that do not rhyme. The story is told from the third person perspective, as a narrator describes all the events that unfold from the beginning to the end.

Native American Life in The Courtship of Miles Standish

The Courtship of Miles Standish was published in the form of a book on October 16th, 1858. It is a long poem concerned with Native American life, and about Plymouth Colony, the settlement established by the Mayflower Pilgrims. Everything in the book and the tale shows how much Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had grown and matured as a writer, including his writing style and the depth of his characters.

The story is told in nine parts. In the first part, the readers are introduced to Miles Standish. He is described physically as being short of stature, but athletic and strongly built. He had broad shoulders, a deep chest, and the “muscles and sinews of iron”. His face was as brown “as a nut”, but his beard was flaked with patches of snow, just like hedges sometimes in November were. John Alden, his friend, is described as having fair hair, azure eyes, with a delicate Saxon complexion. He had the dew of his youth, as well as the beauty, as the captives that Saint Gregory saw, and he exclaimed that they were not Angles, but Angels. He was the youngest of all the men who came in the May flower. Miles Standish was arrogant and proud of his physique and station. He praised his arms: “Look at these arms…the weapons that hang…burnished and clean, as if for inspection or parade!” He also praised his sword, saying that it was the sword of Damascus that he fought with in Flanders. Standish then told Alden that he was ready for Indians to attack. He looked out of the window at the landscape and became filled with grief as spoke of Rose Standish, who was the first to die from all those who came in the Mayflower. Lastly, Alden sat down and wrote letters, all addressed to the maiden Priscilla.

In the second part, Alden continued writing as Standish heaped praises on Julius Caesar, saying that Caesar had the talent to both fight and write, and was equally skillful in both of them. Alden agreed with him, but Standish entirely ignored his words. When Alden finished writing, Standish gave him a request. He said that ever since Rose Standish died, his life had been weary and dreary. However, he often thought of a maiden called Priscilla; the same Priscilla whom Alden had just completed his letter. Standish was aware that he might not be able to seduce her with his own words; therefore he wanted Alden to go to Priscilla in his stead and talk to her and attempt to seduce her. Alden, embarrassed and dismayed, initially refused, saying that Standish should do the job himself. However, Standish was firm in his decision to send Alden, and after a bit of persuasion, he accepted the request.

In the third part, Alden is shown as being in turmoil, since he did not know whether to choose his love for Priscilla over his friendship with and loyalty to Standish, or the other way round. As Alden walked on the New England shores, he had many dark thoughts, like about Satan and Baal. On the way, he gathered puritan flowers as Alden saw Priscilla as a puritan maiden. When he reached her house, she was singing. He told her that Miles Standish, the Captain of Plymouth, had an offer of marriage to her. This made Priscilla angry, and the more he tried to defend Standish, the worse the situation became. Then, later on, she asked him to speak for himself.

Over the course of the poem, the three of them became embroiled in a love triangle. Here, Miles Standish and John Alden both try to win the affections of the beautiful maiden that they had both fallen in love with, Priscilla Mullins. Priscilla, on her part, took advantage of their emotions to play around with their minds. However, it was soon revealed that Priscilla desired John and not Standish. When they heard that Miles had been killed in battle, the couple began to plan their wedding date. On the eve of the nuptials, Standish returned. He was hurt to see his friend marrying the woman that he loved with such a passion, but he gave both of them his blessings.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow shows that he has changed his perception on the Native Americans, as the white Americans had quite positive relations with the Native Americans. This was one of the first pieces of literature to portray the Native Americans in such a positive light—especially considering that, during the time the country was still trying to figure out who was the native of the land, as the white population had easily become the majority.

The characters have inner turmoil, as shown by Alden when he went to woo Priscilla at his captain’s request. He was torn in choosing between his love for Priscilla and his friendship with Standish. Standish was also in turmoil to see his best friend, Alden and the object of his desire, Priscilla, get married. He was hurt, angry and felt betrayed.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow uses more stylistic devices in this long poem than in most of his previous works. For instance, he uses vivid imagery. When Alden is going to Priscilla to woo her on Standish’s behalf, the author describes the New England shore in such a way that the reader can easily imagine himself there. Another style is ballad; the entire poem is written in the form of a ballad. The poem is in the form of a free verse. To elaborate, there are no usages of rhymes anywhere in the poem. There are also instances of alliteration, as evidenced by the phrase: “Not Angles, but Angels.”The poem has plenty of repetition, as shown by the phrase: “Welcome, O wind of the East!…Welcome, O wind of the East…”And also: “Blowing o’er fields of dulse, and measureless meadows of sea-grass…Blowing o’er rocky wastes, and the grottos and gardens of ocean!”There is a slight feel of didacticism in the way he describes scenes. Other styles used by the author include anapestic and trochaic forms.

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From the above poems, it can be observed that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a prodigy, so to speak. He began writing several years before he published his first poem, The Battle of Lovell’s Pond, before he reached fourteen years old. The poem was surprisingly popular, even though it was based on another poem that had been written a century or so earlier.

When Longfellow started writing, he was naive in the way he wrote, and the way he portrayed his characters and scenes. For instance, in The Battle of Lovell’s Pond, there are no individual characters, just whole groups. Also, his poems did not have the depth of his later works; the characters did not have enough depth, were flat and one-sided and, therefore, lifeless.

The writer’s point of view was also amiss. In The Battle of Lovell’s Pond, he told the tale strictly from the point of view of the white Colonialists. To him, the Native Americans were nothing more than mere savages. The “savage’s” deaths were not to be pitied, but rather scorned, as due to their deaths it was not possible to obtain the bodies of the white colonialists.

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow grew older, however, so did the quality of his work mature, much like a fine wine? For instance, he began writing lengthy poems—this eventually developed into epic poems—so as to give his stories breathing space. He also used three-dimensional characters that most readers, from children to adults, could sympathize. A good example of this is John Alden from The Courtship of Miles Standish. The writer also developed the way he portrayed imagery in his work. For instance, in The Song of Hiawatha, one could almost feel like being were there with Hiawatha and the Native Americans.

In conclusion, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s works developed from mildly attractive to the bestselling masterpieces. His works became popular to the point where the author used to receive up to three thousand dollars for a poem.

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