The Song of Hiawatha – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
‚This Indian Edda, if I may so call it,‘ says the author, ‚is founded on a tradition, prevalent among the North American Indians, of a personage of miraculous birth, who was sent among them to clear their rivers, forests, and fishing-grounds, and to teach them the arts of peace. He was known among different tribes by the several names of Michabou, Chiabo, Manabozho, Tarcuyawagon, and Hiawatha. ‚ We are further informed, that ‚the scene of the poem is among the Ojibways on the southern shore of Lake Superior, in the region between the Pictured Rocks and the Grand Sable.‘ Here then, at last, is a genuine American poem, by a native of America; a poem redolent of pine-forests and the smoke of wigwams. ‚ In reading American poetry, we never get beyond the shores of Kent,‘ said a surly critic some years ago. It is obvious enough, that if this complaint was justifiable then, it is utterly without foundation now. Longfellow’s poem created an immense and instant sensation, not only in this country, but in England. It was read, it was quoted, it was praised, it was ridiculed, it was dramatized, it was parodied, it was attacked as a plagiarism. It remains to this day the most parodied poem in the English language.
The Song of Hiawatha.
Available at amazon.com and other venues.
Publication and plot of The Song of Hiawatha (from Wikipedia):
The poem was published on November 10, 1855, and was an immediate success. In 1857, Longfellow calculated that it had sold 50,000 copies.
Longfellow chose to set The Song of Hiawatha at the Pictured Rocks, one of the locations along the south shore of Lake Superior favored by narrators of the Manabozho stories. The Songpresents a legend of Hiawatha and his lover Minnehaha in 22 chapters (and an Introduction). Hiawatha is not introduced until Chapter III.
In Chapter I, Hiawatha’s arrival is prophesied by a „mighty“ peace-bringing leader named Gitche Manito.
Chapter II tells a legend of how the warrior Mudjekeewis became Father of the Four Winds by slaying the Great Bear of the mountains, Mishe-Mokwa. His son Wabun, the East Wind, falls in love with a maiden whom he turns into the Morning Star, Wabun-Annung. Wabun’s brother, Kabibonokka, the North Wind, bringer of autumn and winter, attacks Shingebis, „the diver“. Shingebis repels him by burning firewood, and then in a wrestling match. A third brother, Shawondasee, the South Wind, falls in love with a dandelion, mistaking it for a golden-haired maiden.
In Chapter III, in „unremembered ages“, a woman named Nokomis falls from the moon. Nokomis gives birth to Wenonah, who grows to be a beautiful young woman. Nokomis warns her not to be seduced by the West Wind (Mudjekeewis) but she does not heed her mother, becomes pregnant and bears Hiawatha.
In the ensuing chapters, Hiawatha has childhood adventures, falls in love with Minnehaha, slays the evil magician Pearl-Feather, invents written language, discovers corn and other episodes. Minnehaha dies in a severe winter.
The poem closes with the approach of a birch canoe to Hiawatha’s village, containing „the Priest of Prayer, the Pale-face.“ Hiawatha welcomes him joyously; and the „Black-Robe chief“ brings word of Jesus Christ. Hiawatha and the chiefs accept the Christian message. Hiawatha bids farewell to Nokomis, the warriors, and the young men, giving them this charge: „But my guests I leave behind me/ Listen to their words of wisdom,/ Listen to the truth they tell you.“ Having endorsed the Christian missionaries, he launches his canoe for the last time westward toward the sunset and departs forever.
The story of Hiawatha was dramatized by Tale Spinners for Children (UAC 11054) with Jordan Malek.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
Publisher’s Note: This book is printed and distributed by Createspace a DBA of On-Demand Publishing LLC and is typically not available anywhere else than in stores owned and operated by Amazon or Createspace.