Song of Hiawatha

by Henry W. Longfellow

Hardcover, 1993



Call number

PS2267 .A1


Gramercy (1993), Edition: 2nd edition, revised and enlarged, 242 pages


Fiction. Poetry. Folklore. HTML: Longfellow wrote his epic poem The Song of Hiawatha in 1855. He based it on the Ojibway legends, which had been compiled by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and his Ojibway wife Jane Schoolcraft. It tells the legend of Hiawatha and Minnehaha, his lover..

User reviews

LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Everybody knows “By the shores of Gitche Gumee; By the shining Big-Sea Water”, right? But what comes next? Nor is that how the poem begins. In fact, we are well into the third Canto (of twenty-two) before those famous words show up. I know I was exposed to Longfellow’s long narrative poem way
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back in high school sometime, but I had never read it in its entirety before. Hiawatha, born of Wenonah and the fickle West Wind, is raised by his grieving grandmother, Nokomis, after Wenonah dies of a broken heart. He becomes a strong and mighty brave, and eventually wins the lovely Minnehaha as his wife. This poem is the story of his life, incorporating multiple Native American folktales which Longfellow learned from studying the work of two 19th century scholars, Heckewelder and Schoolcraft. The structure and rhythm of the poem are based on the Finnish epic, Kalevala, which appeared approximately 20 years earlier, and which Longfellow had read just before beginning his own epic tale. It was his intent to provide a similar chronicle, a sort of unified mythology, for the American Indians. Here, of course, arises a mighty cultural stumbling block to a 21st century appreciation of a work that contains some magnificent language and imagery. Longfellow, a white man, took it upon himself to codify a mythology for an indigenous culture he was not a part of, and which did not exist as he envisioned it. Because there is no single “American Indian” culture; because the indigenous people of this continent comprise multiple tribes diverse in their languages, beliefs, traditions and habits, who lived in harmony with their environment, without ever considering that they owned it, long before there was such a concept as “America”; because while Longfellow’s assumption that the Indian tribes would never create their own “national epic” may have been valid, his mission to do it for them was misguided in his own time, and now feels as obnoxious and out of place as the Christian sentiments and symbolism he inserts into the final scenes of his song. Longfellow was criticized by his contemporaries for “borrowing” legends from the Kalevala, and he defended himself against that charge by citing the scholarly works from which he drew his Indian legends, pointing out that the similarities which certainly appeared were not his doing. Apparently he was not called to task for doing what he openly admitted to, that is creating an overall mythic framework meant to encompass the Indians of the Maine woods, the Great Lakes, the Southwest, and the Great Plains as though they were a single people, indistinguishable from one another. There are common elements among their tribal stories, just as there were legends recounted in the Kalevala that sounded like source material for the Song of Hiawatha, and Longfellow really did create a poetic masterpiece here; it’s just that we must read it with a culturally critical eye to the liberties he took to do so.

A note on the edition I read (which claims to be the only unabridged version in print): it was published by David R. Godine, and contains the illustrations by Frederic Remington that accompanied the original edition. They are not coordinated to the text at all, and mostly consist of marginal drawings of tools, utensils, and other articles of Indian origin; animals, plants and features of the landscape of the Southwest. They are exquisite. This edition also includes a glossary, notes (in which the page references are all incorrect), and an informative afterword by the publisher. If you want to read this epic, I strongly suggest you get your hands on this edition.
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LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
This is weird: a modern retelling of ancient tales that is pretty old itself. It wasn't old in 1855, of course, when Mr. Longfellow published his version of Native American folk-tales. It's the epic poem of Hiawatha, the wise and powerful demigod who guides and protects his people and has many an
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adventure. According to the introduction, Longfellow has been accused of "cleaning up" the original tales to make them more palatable to a Victorian audience. That may be so (I can't tell you from personal experience whether that's true or not), but isn't that what folk tales are all about? You embellish the basic story to enchant your audience. Anyway, however much Mr. Longfellow may have monkeyed with the stories, he didn't spoil them. I found the book to be enjoyable, despite my tendency to start skimming through poetic writing.
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LibraryThing member nules
This was fairly good. It was like a really long fairy tale written in poem-style (although the fantastical elements evinced themselves more so later on). I guess it's more like an Indian legend than a fairy tale, but it feels similar.Peter Yearsley does an excellent job at narration in this
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Librivox audio book.
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LibraryThing member cjyurkanin
Transported for two full nights into another world. Disappointed that I was not introduced to this at a younger age but also grateful that I've been able to discover it and enjoy it so thoroughly and fresh in my maturity. A poem in trochaic tetrameter that necessitates it being read aloud to fully
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experience its effect. Simply mesmerizing.
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
For some reason, I didn't expect this poem to be as accurately grounded in Native American folklore/mythology and language as it was. I like Longfellow's style of poetry, which has a strong meter and rhythm. This epic poem contains Algonquin folklore which is in some places surprisingly similar to
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Bible stories (for example, Hiawatha's strong friend Kwa'sind whose only weak spot is in the crown of his head can't help but remind one of Sampson). Other sections are more historical, as in the section describing the introduction of writing via pictograms.
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LibraryThing member rolyat
i found this book to be very soothing to read. i enjoyed it immensely.
LibraryThing member LorisBook
For those that wrote and asked what book I was gifted for Christmas this year, it was the 1855 copy of The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The setting for The Song of Hiawatha is the Pictured Rocks along the southern shore of Lake Superior.

I've spent time along the great lakes and am
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aware they are the world’s largest surface freshwater ecosystems. From west to east is Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.

Lake Michigan is the only one of the Great Lakes that lies entirely within American borders.

I marvel at the Great Lakes picturesque beauty and recognize their vastness and danger. Perhaps that is why I appreciate reading maritime history and the legends along the lakes.

English writer George Eliot called The Song of Hiawatha, along with Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the "two most indigenous and masterly productions in American literature".

If you look back at 1855 it was known as a year of conflict between Indians and American Soldiers and Longfellow's text depicts a brave Indian with noble traditions.

History tells us the storms of 1855 were unusually fierce during September and November and it proved to be a disastrous season for Navigation in the Lake Superior region.

The Ojibwe Indians knew the area as the land of thunder and the gods. The name for Lake Superior - also called "Kitchi gami" (or "Kitchi-gummi) is said to mean the shining blue sea water but has also been translated as great water.

So, while I read Longfellow's, ‘By the shores of Gitche Gume’, Gordon Lightfoot’s song 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald' popped into mind. Gordon Lightfoot’s helped define the folk-pop sound with material that is lyrical and moving. The 729′ SS Edmund Fitzgerald remains the largest ship to have sunk on North America's Great Lakes. She sank in eastern Lake Superior, about 17 miles from the entrance to Whitefish Bay, Michigan, November 10, 1975. The entire crew of 29, many from my home state, were lost.

Back in 1855, Longfellow closed The Song of Hiawatha with Hiawatha launching his canoe for the last time westward toward the sunset where he departs forever.
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LibraryThing member fuzzi
Not my thing, but I gave it a good try. It's fine for an epic poem.
LibraryThing member scottjpearson
This book, spanning almost 200 pages, is one large poem. It is divided into chapters and memorializes myths from Native American tribes in mid-western North America. It is entertaining and, like much of Longfellow's poetry, highlights the unique nature of the United States. It portrays America as a
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land overflowing with natural resources and with a history that is also deep and speckled by strange names like Hiawatha.

No wonder Longfellow received commendation in Westminster Abbey despite not being British. His poetry is patterned with a meter that is obvious to any reader. It does not rhyme but in a chant, lulls the reader into a trance as she/he wonders what is coming next in Hiawatha's adventures.

Themes span the gamut of one's lifespan; birth, adventure, marriage, family, civic service, and death are all covered. In an age where Native Americans could be viewed as racially tinted, Longfellow's approach humanizes the bloodline. One sees Native Americans as a nexus of relationships that, too, long for peace and prosperity.

Unfortunately, history did not always listen to Longfellow. Native American culture is still not much appreciated today and is constrained to reservations. Reading this poem almost 150 years since its first publication, one cannot help but ponder whether Longfellow's idyllic vision meets the reality of modernity. At the very least, however, it gives us something to aspire to.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

6 inches


0517001977 / 9780517001974


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