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Hiawatha's Departure -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

(Poem #362) Hiawatha's Departure
 By the shore of Gitchie Gumee,
 By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
 At the doorway of his wigwam,
 In the pleasant Summer morning,
 Hiawatha stood and waited.
 All the air was full of freshness,
 All the earth was bright and joyous,
 And before him through the sunshine,
 Westward toward the neighboring forest
 Passed in golden swarms the Ahmo,
 Passed the bees, the honey-makers,
 Burning, singing in the sunshine.
    Bright above him shown the heavens,
 Level spread the lake before him;
 From its bosom leaped the sturgeon,
 Sparkling, flashing in the sunshine;
 On its margin the great forest
 Stood reflected in the water,
 Every tree-top had its shadow,
 Motionless beneath the water.
    From the brow of Hiawatha
 Gone was every trace of sorrow,
 As the fog from off the water,
 And the mist from off the meadow.
 With a smile of joy and triumph,
 With a look of exultation,
 As of one who in a vision
 Sees what is to be, but is not,
    Stood and waited Hiawatha.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
 from 'The Song of Hiawatha', 1855.

I can think of no other example of a poet making a particular metre his
own as comprehensively as did Longfellow with the publication of
'Hiawatha'. Often belittled and even more often parodied, the poem's
sheer ubiquity is a tribute to the compositional genius of the poet.


[On Hiawatha]

One of [Longfellow's] most recognizable works is The Song of Hiawatha,
based on an accumulation of American Indian stories and legends. Much of
this work was based on The Myth of Hiawatha compiled by Jane and Henry
Rowe Schoolcraft. Henry was a historian, explorer, and geologist who was
superintendent of Indian affairs for Michigan from 1836 to 1841. Jane
was an Ojibway indian whose name translated into english as 'The Woman
of the Sound Which the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky'. The Ojibway,
and northwestern Michigan, would serve most of a century later as the
background for Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams stories (a character who
bears several parallels to Hiawatha).

        -- Steve Spanoudi, the Poet's Corner:


   b. Feb. 27, 1807, Portland, Mass. [now in Maine], U.S.
   d. March 24, 1882, Cambridge, Mass.

Longfellow attended private schools and the Portland Academy. He
graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825. At college he was attracted
especially to Sir Walter Scott's romances and Washington Irving's Sketch
Book, and his verses appeared in national magazines. He was so fluent in
translating that on graduation he was offered a professorship in modern
languages provided that he would first study in Europe.

On the continent he learned French, Spanish, and Italian but refused to
settle down to a regimen of scholarship at any university. In 1829 he
returned to the United States to be a professor and librarian at
Bowdoin. He wrote and edited textbooks, translated poetry and prose, and
wrote essays on French, Spanish, and Italian literature, but he felt
isolated. When he was offered a professorship at Harvard, with another
opportunity to go abroad, he accepted and set forth for Germany in 1835.
On this trip he visited England, Sweden, and The Netherlands. In 1835,
saddened by the death of his first wife, whom he had married in 1831, he
settled at Heidelberg, where he fell under the influence of German

In 1836 Longfellow returned to Harvard and settled in the famous Craigie
House, which was later given to him as a wedding present when he
remarried in 1843. His travel sketches, Outre-Mer (1835), did not
succeed. In 1839 he published Voices of the Night, which contained the
poems "Hymn to the Night," "The Psalm of Life," and "The Light of the
Stars" and achieved immediate popularity. That same year Longfellow
published Hyperion, a romantic novel idealizing his European travels. In
1841 his Ballads and Other Poems, containing such favourites as "The
Wreck of the Hesperus" and "The Village Blacksmith," swept the nation.
The antislavery sentiments he expressed in Poems on Slavery (1842),
however, lacked the humanity and power of John Greenleaf Whittier's
denunciations on the same theme. Longfellow was more at home in
Evangeline (1847), a narrative poem that reached almost every literate
home in the United States. It is a sentimental tale of two lovers
separated when British soldiers expel the Acadians (French colonists)
from what is now Nova Scotia. The lovers, Evangeline and Gabriel, are
reunited years later as Gabriel is dying.

Longfellow presided over Harvard's modern-language program for 18 years
and then left teaching in 1854. In 1855, using Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's
two books on the Indian tribes of North America as the base and the
trochaic metrics of the Finnish epic Kalevala as his medium, he
fashioned The Song of Hiawatha (1855). Its appeal to the public was
immediate. Hiawatha is an Ojibwa Indian who, after various mythic feats,
becomes his people's leader and marries Minnehaha before departing for
the Isles of the Blessed. Both the poem and its singsong metre have been
frequent objects of parody.

        -- EB


The complete Song of Hiawatha is available online at
[broken link]

Longfellow's _other_ famous poem is Paul Revere's Ride, at poem #172

My favourite Hiawatha parody is, without a question, Lewis Carroll's
brilliant 'Hiawatha's Photographing', which you can read at

32 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Henry Milowski said...

The original poem is truly inspiring and delightful. The parody is not.

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