American poets for 4th July: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Right, let’s start at the beginning.  My beginning, with poetry in general and American poetry in particular.

When I was a brat, I collected poems.  Not like I loved poems and pored over them and learned them and precociously took on their wisdom.  No.  I collected poems like a trainspotter collects numbers.  It was all about the quantity and nothing about quality.  But…

… somehow Henry Wadsworth Longfellow cut through this and a couple of little excerpts from Hiawatha touched my nine-year-old soul.

I bought a beautifully illustrated copy of the poem when my son was nine and got a tingle when I read it to him.  He was so impressed he was asleep before the babe was out of his swaddling.  I hope you enjoy it more.  As an incentive, if you get to the end of this – my favourite few lines – you get my favourite Hiawatha joke, as a reward.

[from] Hiawatha’s Childhood by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

At the door on summer evenings,

Sat the little Hiawatha,

Heard the whispering of the pine-trees,

Heard the lapping of the waters,

Sounds of music, words of wonder;

“Minne-wawa!” said the pine-trees,

“Mudway-aushka!” said the water.

Saw the fire-fly Wah-wah-taysee,

Flitting through the dusk of evening,

With the twinkle of its candle

Lighting up the brakes and bushes,

And he sang the song of children,

Sang the song Nokomis taught him;

“Wah-wah-taysee, little fire-fly,

Little flitting, white-fire insect,

Little, dancing, white-fire creature,

Light me with your little candle,

Ere upon my bed I lay me,

Ere in sleep I close my eyelids!”

OK, as promised –

Q. How did Hiawatha?

A. With thoap and water.

I thank you.


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