PRECIOUS POETRY: “The Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth LONGFELLOW (1807 – 1882)

“The Song of Hiawatha”
by Henry Wadsworth LONGFELLOW (1807 – 1882)

Photogaph by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) in Public Domain

Longfellow’s photo by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) in Public Domain

WIKIPEDIA – “The Song of Hiawatha is an 1855 epic poem, in trochaic tetrameter, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, featuring a Native American hero. In sentiment, scope, overall conception, and many particulars, Longfellow’s poem is a work of American Romantic literature, not a representation of Native American oral tradition. Longfellow insisted, “I can give chapter and verse for these legends. Their chief value is that they are Indian legends.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_Hiawatha

THE SONG OF HIAWATHA (Longfellow)

Should you ask me, whence these stories?
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
And their wild reverberations
As of thunder in the mountains?
I should answer, I should tell you,
“From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors, and fen-lands
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them
From the lips of Nawadaha,
The musician, the sweet singer.”
Should you ask where Nawadaha
Found these songs so wild and wayward,
Found these legends and traditions,
I should answer, I should tell you,
“In the bird’s-nests of the forest,
In the lodges of the beaver,
In the hoof-prints of the bison,
In the eyry of the eagle!
“All the wild-fowl sang them to him,
In the moorlands and the fen-lands,
In the melancholy marshes;
Chetowaik, the plover, sang them,
Mahng, the loon, the wild-goose, Wawa,
The blue heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
And the grouse, the Mushkodasa!”
If still further you should ask me,
Saying, “Who was Nawadaha?
Tell us of this Nawadaha,”
I should answer your inquiries
Straightway in such words as follow.
“In the vale of Tawasentha,
In the green and silent valley,
By the pleasant water-courses,
Dwelt the singer Nawadaha.
Round about the Indian village
Spread the meadows and the corn-fields,
And beyond them stood the forest,
Stood the groves of singing pine-trees,
Green in Summer, white in Winter,
Ever sighing, ever singing.
“And the pleasant water-courses,
You could trace them through the valley,
By the rushing in the Spring-time,
By the alders in the Summer,
By the white fog in the Autumn,
By the black line in the Winter;
And beside them dwelt the singer,
In the vale of Tawasentha,
In the green and silent valley.
“There he sang of Hiawatha,
Sang the Song of Hiawatha,
Sang his wondrous birth and being,
How he prayed and how be fasted,
How he lived, and toiled, and suffered,
That the tribes of men might prosper,
That he might advance his people!”
Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
Love the sunshine of the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest,
Love the wind among the branches,
And the rain-shower and the snow-storm,
And the rushing of great rivers
Through their palisades of pine-trees,
And the thunder in the mountains,
Whose innumerable echoes
Flap like eagles in their eyries;–
Listen to these wild traditions,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye who love a nation’s legends,
Love the ballads of a people,
That like voices from afar off
Call to us to pause and listen,
Speak in tones so plain and childlike,
Scarcely can the ear distinguish
Whether they are sung or spoken;–
Listen to this Indian Legend,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple,
Who have faith in God and Nature,
Who believe that in all ages
Every human heart is human,
That in even savage bosoms
There are longings, yearnings, strivings
For the good they comprehend not,
That the feeble hands and helpless,
Groping blindly in the darkness,
Touch God’s right hand in that darkness
And are lifted up and strengthened;–
Listen to this simple story,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye, who sometimes, in your rambles
Through the green lanes of the country,
Where the tangled barberry-bushes
Hang their tufts of crimson berries
Over stone walls gray with mosses,
Pause by some neglected graveyard,
For a while to muse, and ponder
On a half-effaced inscription,
Written with little skill of song-craft,
Homely phrases, but each letter
Full of hope and yet of heart-break,
Full of all the tender pathos
Of the Here and the Hereafter;–
Stay and read this rude inscription,
Read this Song of Hiawatha!

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Language will outlive us – By Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

Brodsky

“A poet always knows that what in the vernacular is called the voice of the Muse is, in reality, the dictate of language; that it’s not the language that happens to be his instrument, but that he is language’s mean toward the continuation of its existence. Language, however, even if one imagines it as a certain animate creature (which would only be just), is not capable of ethical choice.

A person sets out to write a poem for a variety of reasons: to win the heart of his beloved; to express his attitude toward the reality surrounding him, be it a landscape or a state; to capture his state of mind at a given instant; to leave – as he thinks at that moment – a trace on the earth. (…) Regardless of the reasons for which he takes up the pen, and regardless of the effect produced by what emerges from under that pen on his audience – however great or small it may be – the immediate consequence of this enterprise is the sensation of coming into direct contact with language, or more precisely, the sensation of immediately falling into dependence on it, on everything that has already been uttered, written, and accomplished in it.

The poet, I wish to repeat, is language’s means of existence – or, as my beloved Auden said, he is the one by whom it lives. I who write this lines will cease to be; so will you who read them. But the language in which they are written and in which you read them will remain, not merely because language is a more lasting thing than man, but because it is more capable of mutation.”

JOSEPH BRODSKY (1940-1996)

Russian poet and essayist

In: “On Grief and Reason”

* * * * *

Here’s one of my favorite Brodsky’s poems:

Song of Welcome

Here’s your Mom, here’s your Dad.
Welcome to being their flesh and blood.
Why do you look so sad?

Here’s your food, here’s your drink.
Also some thoughts, if you care to think.
Welcome to everything.

Here’s your practically clean slate.
Welcome to it, though it’s kind of late.
Welcome at any rate.

Here’s your paycheck, here’s your rent.
Money is nature’s fifth element.
Welcome to every cent.

Here’s your swarm and your huge beehive.
Welcome to that there’s roughly five
billion like you alive.

Welcome to the phone book that stars your name
Digits are democracy’s secret aim.
Welcome to your claim to fame.

Here’s your marriage, and here’s divorce.
Now that’s the order you can’t reverse.
Welcome to it; up yours.

Here’s your blade, here’s your wrist.
Welcome to playing your own terrorist;
call this your Middle East.

Here’s your mirror, your dental gleam.
Here’s an octopus in your dream.
Why do you try to scream?

Here’s your corn-cob, your TV set.
Your candidate suffering an upset.
Welcome to what he said.

Here’s your porch, see the cars pass by.
Here’s your shitting dog’s guilty eye.
Welcome to its alibi.

Here are your cicadas, then a chickadee,
the bulb’s dry tear in your lemon tea.
Welcome to infinity.

Here are your pills on the plastic tray,
Your disappointing, crisp X-ray.
You are welcome to pray.

Here’s your cemetery, a well kept glen.
Welcome to a voice that says, “Amen.”
The end of the rope, old man.

Here’s your will, and here’s a few
takers. Here’s an empty pew.
Here’s life after you.

And here are your stars which appear still keen
on shining as though you had never been.
They might have a point, old bean.

Here’s your afterlife, with no trace
of you, especially of your face.
Welcome, and call it space.

Welcome to where one cannot breathe.
This way, space resembles what’s underneath
and Saturn holds the wreath.

© 1994, Joseph Brodsky