'Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
Of the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood Nokomis, the old woman,
Pointing with her finger westward,
O'er the water pointing westward,
To the purple clouds of sunset.
Fiercely the red sun descending
Burned his way along the heavens,
Set the sky on fire behind him,
As war-parties, when retreating,
Burn the prairies on their war-trail;
And the moon, the Night-sun, eastward,
Suddenly starting from his ambush,
Followed fast those bloody footprints,
Followed in that fiery war-trail,
With its glare upon his features.
And Nokomis, the old woman,
Pointing with her finger westward,
Spake these words to Hiawatha:
"Yonder dwells the great Pearl-Feather,
Megissogwon, the Magician,
Manito of Wealth and Wampum,
Guarded by his fiery serpents,
Guarded by the black pitch-water.
You can see his fiery serpents,
The Kenabeek, the great serpents,
Coiling, playing in the water;
You can see the black pitch-water
Stretching far away beyond them,
To the purple clouds of sunset!
"He it was who slew my father,
By his wicked wiles and cunning,
When he from the moon descended,
When he came on earth to seek me.
He, the mightiest of Magicians,
Sends the fever from the marshes,
Sends the pestilential vapors,
Sends the poisonous exhalations,
Sends the white fog from the fen-lands,
Sends disease and death among us!
"Take your bow, O Hiawatha,
Take your arrows, jasper-headed,
Take your war-club, Puggawaugun,
And your mittens, Minjekahwun,
And your birch-canoe for sailing,
And the oil of Mishe-Nahma,
So to smear its sides, that swiftly
You may pass the black pitch-water;
Slay this merciless magician,
Save the people from the fever
That he breathes across the fen-lands,
And avenge my father's murder!"
Straightway then my Hiawatha
Armed himself with all his war-gear,
Launched his birch-canoe for sailing;
With his palm its sides he patted,
Said with glee, "Cheemaun, my darling,
O my Birch-canoe! leap forward,
Where you see the fiery serpents,
Where you see the black pitch-water!"
Forward leaped Cheemaun exulting,
And the noble Hiawatha
Sang his war-song wild and woful,
And above him the war-eagle,
The Keneu, the great war-eagle,
Master of all fowls with feathers,
Screamed and hurtled through the heavens.
Soon he reached the fiery serpents,
The Kenabeek, the great serpents,
Lying huge upon the water,
Sparkling, rippling in the water,
Lying coiled across the passage,
With their blazing crests uplifted,
Breathing fiery fogs and vapors,
So that none could pass beyond them.
But the fearless Hiawatha
Cried aloud, and spake in this wise,
"Let me pass my way, Kenabeek,
Let me go upon my journey!"
And they answered, hissing fiercely,
With their fiery breath made answer:
"Back, go back! O Shaugodaya!
Back to old Nokomis, Faint-heart!"
Then the angry Hiawatha
Raised his mighty bow of ash-tree,
Seized his arrows, jasper-headed,
Shot them fast among the serpents;
Every twanging of the bow-string
Was a war-cry and a death-cry,
Every whizzing of an arrow
Was a death-song of Kenabeek.
Weltering in the bloody water,
Dead lay all the fiery serpents,
And among them Hiawatha
Harmless sailed, and cried exulting:
"Onward, O Cheemaun, my darling!
Onward to the black pitch-water!"
Then he took the oil of Nahma,
And the bows and sides anointed,
Smeared them well with oil, that swiftly
He might pass the black pitch-water.
All night long he sailed upon it,
Sailed upon that sluggish water,
Covered with its mould of ages,
Black with rotting water-rushes,
Rank with flags and leaves of lilies,
Stagnant, lifeless, dreary, dismal,
Lighted by the shimmering moonlight,
And by will-o'-the-wisps illumined,
Fires by ghosts of dead men kindled,
In their weary night-encampments.
All the air was white with moonlight,
All the water black with shadow,
And around him the Suggema,
The mosquito, sang his war-song,
And the fire-flies, Wah-wah-taysee,
Waved their torches to mislead him;
And the bull-frog, the Dahinda,
Thrust his head into the moonlight,
Fixed his yellow eyes upon him,
Sobbed and sank beneath the surface;
And anon a thousand whistles,
Answered over all the fen-lands,
And the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Far off on the reedy margin,
Heralded the hero's coming.
Westward thus fared Hiawatha,
Toward the realm of Megissogwon,
Toward the land of the Pearl-Feather,
Till the level moon stared at him
In his face stared pale and haggard,
Till the sun was hot behind him,
Till it burned upon his shoulders,
And before him on the upland
He could see the Shining Wigwam
Of the Manito of Wampum,
Of the mightiest of Magicians.
Then once more Cheemaun he patted,
To his birch-canoe said, "Onward!"
And it stirred in all its fibres,
And with one great bound of triumph
Leaped across the water-lilies,
Leaped through tangled flags and rushes,
And upon the beach beyond them
Dry-shod landed Hiawatha.
Straight he took his bow of ash-tree,
On the sand one end he rested,
With his knee he pressed the middle,
Stretched the faithful bow-string tighter,
Took an arrow, jasperheaded,
Shot it at the Shining Wigwam,
Sent it singing as a herald,
As a bearer of his message,
Of his challenge loud and lofty:
"Come forth from your lodge, Pearl-Feather!
Hiawatha waits your coming!"
Straightway from the Shining Wigwam
Came the mighty Megissogwon,
Tall of stature, broad of shoulder,
Dark and terrible in aspect,
Clad from head to foot in wampum,
Armed with all his warlike weapons,
Painted like the sky of morning,
Streaked with crimson, blue, and yellow,
Crested with great eagle-feathers,
Streaming upward, streaming outward.
"Well I know you, Hiawatha!"
Cried he in a voice of thunder,
In a tone of loud derision.
"Hasten back, O Shaugodaya!
Hasten back among the women,
Back to old Nokomis, Faint-heart!
I will slay you as you stand there,
As of old I slew her father!"
But my Hiawatha answered,
Nothing daunted, fearing nothing:
"Big words do not smite like war-clubs,
Boastful breath is not a bow-string,
Taunts are not so sharp as arrows,
Deeds are better things than words are,
Actions mightier than boastings!"
Then began the greatest battle
That the sun had ever looked on,
That the war-birds ever witnessed.
All a Summer's day it lasted,
From the sunrise to the sunset;
For the shafts of Hiawatha
Harmless hit the shirt of wampum,
Harmless fell the blows he dealt it
With his mittens, Minjekahwun,
Harmless fell the heavy war-club;
It could dash the rocks asunder,
But it could not break the meshes
Of that magic shirt of wampum.
Till at sunset Hiawatha,
Leaning on his bow of ash-tree,
Wounded, weary, and desponding,
With his mighty war-club broken,
With his mittens torn and tattered,
And three useless arrows only,
Paused to rest beneath a pine-tree,
From whose branches trailed the mosses,
And whose trunk was coated over
With the Dead-man's Moccasin-leather,
With the fungus white and yellow.
Suddenly from the boughs above him
Sang the Mama, the woodpecker:
"Aim your arrows, Hiawatha,
At the head of Megissogwon,
Strike the tuft of hair upon it,
At their roots the long black tresses;
There alone can he be wounded!"
Winged with feathers, tipped with jasper,
Swift flew Hiawatha's arrow,
Just as Megissogwon, stooping,
Raised a heavy stone to throw it.
Full upon the crown it struck him,
At the roots of his long tresses,
And he reeled and staggered forward,
Plunging like a wounded bison,
Yes, like Pezhekee, the bison,
When the snow is on the prairie.
Swifter flew the second arrow,
In the pathway of the other,
Piercing deeper than the other,
Wounding sorer than the other;
And the knees of Megissogwon
Shook like windy reeds beneath him,
Bent and trembled like the rushes.
But the third and latest arrow
Swiftest flew, and wounded sorest,
And the mighty Megissogwon
Saw the fiery eyes of Pauguk,
Saw the eyes of Death glare at him,
Heard his voice call in the darkness;
At the feet of Hiawatha
Lifeless lay the great Pearl-Feather,
Lay the mightiest of Magicians.
Then the grateful Hiawatha
Called the Mama, the woodpecker,
From his perch among the branches
Of the melancholy pine-tree,
And, in honor of his service,
Stained with blood the tuft of feathers
On the little head of Mama;
Even to this day he wears it,
Wears the tuft of crimson feathers,
As a symbol of his service.
Then he stripped the shirt of wampum
From the back of Megissogwon,
As a trophy of the battle,
As a signal of his conquest.
On the shore he left the body,
Half on land and half in water,
In the sand his feet were buried,
And his face was in the water.
And above him, wheeled and clamored
The Keneu, the great war-eagle,
Sailing round in narrower circles,
Hovering nearer, nearer, nearer.
From the wigwam Hiawatha
Bore the wealth of Megissogwon,
All his wealth of skins and wampum,
Furs of bison and of beaver,
Furs of sable and of ermine,
Wampum belts and strings and pouches,
Quivers wrought with beads of wampum,
Filled with arrows, silver-headed.
Homeward then he sailed exulting,
Homeward through the black pitch-water,
Homeward through the weltering serpents,
With the trophies of the battle,
With a shout and song of triumph.
On the shore stood old Nokomis,
On the shore stood Chibiabos,
And the very strong man, Kwasind,
Waiting for the hero's coming,
Listening to his songs of triumph.
And the people of the village
Welcomed him with songs and dances,
Made a joyous feast, and shouted:
'Honor be to Hiawatha!
He has slain the great Pearl-Feather,
Slain the mightiest of Magicians,
Him, who sent the fiery fever,
Sent the white fog from the fen-lands,
Sent disease and death among us!"
Ever dear to Hiawatha
Was the memory of Mama!
And in token of his friendship,
As a mark of his remembrance,
He adorned and decked his pipe-stem
With the crimson tuft of feathers,
With the blood-red crest of Mama.
But the wealth of Megissogwon,
All the trophies of the battle,
He divided with his people,
Shared it equally among them.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Literary Criticism and Interpretation of "Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather" is a beautiful poem that tells the story of a Native American hero named Hiawatha, who embarks on a journey to obtain a magical feather. This feather is said to possess the power to heal and bring peace to his people. The poem has a rich narrative that highlights the beauty of Native American culture and the power of love, magic, and spirituality.

The Poetic Style of Longfellow

Longfellow's poetic style is characterized by his use of simple language and vivid imagery. He uses metaphors and similes to create a poetic language that is accessible to everyone. His poetry is also known for its lyricism and musicality. "Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather" is no exception. The poem is written in trochaic tetrameter, which gives it a musical quality that is reminiscent of traditional Native American chants.

Longfellow's use of imagery is also noteworthy. He paints vivid pictures of the natural world and the people who inhabit it. His descriptions of the forest, the river, and the animals are so vivid that the reader can almost see and feel them. For instance, in the first stanza of the poem, Longfellow describes the forest in which Hiawatha lives:

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis...

This description of the forest is so vivid that the reader can almost smell the pine trees and hear the rustling of the leaves. Longfellow's use of imagery helps to create a sense of place and to transport the reader to the world of the poem.

The Narrative of "Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather"

The narrative of "Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather" is a classic hero's journey. Hiawatha sets out on a quest to obtain a magical feather that possesses the power to heal and bring peace to his people. Along the way, he faces a series of obstacles and meets several characters who help him on his journey.

The first obstacle Hiawatha faces is the giant Mishe-Nahma, who guards the pearl-feather. Hiawatha defeats Mishe-Nahma by tricking him into eating a rock that he has painted white, causing the giant to break his teeth. This is a classic trickster tale, common in many Native American cultures. The trickster is a character who uses his wit and cunning to outsmart his opponents, and Hiawatha is portrayed as a trickster hero in this story.

After defeating Mishe-Nahma, Hiawatha meets the beautiful Oweenee, who helps him to obtain the pearl-feather. Oweenee is a symbol of love and compassion, and her presence in the story highlights the importance of these values in Native American culture.

Hiawatha returns to his people with the pearl-feather and uses its power to heal their wounds and bring peace to their land. The story is a classic example of the hero's journey, and it highlights the importance of courage, wit, love, and spirituality in Native American culture.

The Symbolism of "Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather"

"Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather" is a richly symbolic poem that highlights the beauty and spirituality of Native American culture. The pearl-feather is a symbol of healing and peace, and it represents the power of the natural world. The pearl itself is a symbol of purity and perfection, while the feather symbolizes the freedom and spirituality of the natural world.

Hiawatha's journey to obtain the pearl-feather is also symbolic. His journey represents the quest for knowledge and spiritual enlightenment, which is a central theme in many Native American cultures. The journey is also a metaphor for the struggles that Native American people have faced in their history, including colonization, forced migration, and cultural assimilation.

The characters in the story are also symbolic. Hiawatha is a symbol of courage and leadership, while Oweenee is a symbol of love and compassion. Mishe-Nahma represents the forces of destruction and chaos, while Nokomis represents the wisdom and spirituality of the natural world.


"Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather" is a beautiful poem that tells the story of a Native American hero on a quest for spiritual enlightenment and healing. Longfellow's use of simple language, vivid imagery, and poetic style creates a narrative that is both accessible and powerful. The story is rich in symbolism, highlighting the beauty and spirituality of Native American culture. The poem is a classic example of the hero's journey and a testament to the importance of courage, wit, love, and spirituality in our lives.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the most celebrated poets in American literature. His works are known for their lyrical beauty, vivid imagery, and historical significance. Among his many works, "The Song of Hiawatha" and "The Pearl-Feather" stand out as two of his most popular and enduring poems.

"The Song of Hiawatha" is an epic poem that tells the story of the legendary Native American hero Hiawatha. The poem is divided into twenty-two sections, each of which describes a different aspect of Hiawatha's life and adventures. The poem is written in trochaic tetrameter, a rhythmic pattern that gives the poem a musical quality.

The poem begins with an introduction that sets the stage for the story. Longfellow describes the setting as "the land of the Ojibways," a place of "dark forests and rushing rivers." He then introduces the hero of the story, Hiawatha, who is described as a "noble warrior" and a "prophet."

The first section of the poem, "The Peace-Pipe," describes how Hiawatha brings peace to his people by introducing them to the peace-pipe. The peace-pipe is a sacred object that is used to symbolize the unity and harmony of the tribe. Hiawatha is able to unite the warring tribes by convincing them to smoke the peace-pipe together.

The second section of the poem, "The Four Winds," describes how Hiawatha gains the power to control the four winds. He is able to use this power to help his people by bringing rain to the crops and calming the waters of the lakes and rivers.

The third section of the poem, "Hiawatha's Childhood," describes how Hiawatha was orphaned at a young age and raised by his grandmother, Nokomis. Nokomis teaches Hiawatha about the natural world and the ways of the spirits.

The fourth section of the poem, "Hiawatha and Mudjekeewis," describes how Hiawatha defeats Mudjekeewis, the spirit of the West Wind, in a wrestling match. This victory gives Hiawatha the power to control the West Wind.

The fifth section of the poem, "Hiawatha's Fasting," describes how Hiawatha goes on a fast to gain spiritual power. During his fast, he has a vision of a beautiful woman who tells him to go on a journey to learn about the ways of the world.

The sixth section of the poem, "Hiawatha's Friends," describes how Hiawatha meets and befriends various animals, including the bear, the deer, and the beaver. He learns from these animals and gains their trust and respect.

The seventh section of the poem, "Hiawatha's Sailing," describes how Hiawatha builds a canoe and sets out on a journey to find the beautiful woman from his vision. He travels across the Great Lakes and encounters various dangers, including storms and sea monsters.

The eighth section of the poem, "Hiawatha's Fishing," describes how Hiawatha catches the giant sturgeon, the king of the fishes. He uses the sturgeon's bones to make a harp, which he uses to sing songs of his adventures.

The ninth section of the poem, "Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather," describes how Hiawatha meets the beautiful woman from his vision, who is named Minnehaha. She gives him a pearl-feather, which he wears in his hair as a symbol of their love.

"The Pearl-Feather" is a separate poem that is often included with "The Song of Hiawatha." It tells the story of how Hiawatha and Minnehaha fall in love and get married. The poem is written in the same rhythmic pattern as "The Song of Hiawatha" and has a similar lyrical quality.

The poem begins with a description of Minnehaha, who is described as a "maiden of the prairie" with "eyes like stars" and "hair like sunshine." Hiawatha sees her and falls in love with her instantly.

The poem then describes how Hiawatha and Minnehaha get married in a traditional Native American ceremony. They exchange gifts, including the pearl-feather that Minnehaha gives to Hiawatha.

The poem ends with a description of Hiawatha and Minnehaha's life together. They live in a peaceful and happy village, surrounded by their friends and family. The pearl-feather remains a symbol of their love and devotion to each other.

In conclusion, "The Song of Hiawatha" and "The Pearl-Feather" are two of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's most beloved poems. They tell the story of a legendary Native American hero and his adventures, as well as his love for the beautiful Minnehaha. The poems are known for their lyrical beauty, vivid imagery, and historical significance, and continue to be read and enjoyed by people of all ages.

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