'Norman Baron, The' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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et plus profonde, ou l'interet et l'avarice parlent moins haut
que la raison, dans les instants de chagrin domestique, de
maladie, et de peril de mort, les nobles se repentirent de
posseder des serfs, comme d'une chose peu agreable a Dieu, qui
avait cree tous les hommes a son image.--THIERRY, Conquete de

In his chamber, weak and dying,
Was the Norman baron lying;
Loud, without, the tempest thundered
And the castle-turret shook,

In this fight was Death the gainer,
Spite of vassal and retainer,
And the lands his sires had plundered,
Written in the Doomsday Book.

By his bed a monk was seated,
Who in humble voice repeated
Many a prayer and pater-noster,
From the missal on his knee;

And, amid the tempest pealing,
Sounds of bells came faintly stealing,
Bells, that from the neighboring kloster
Rang for the Nativity.

In the hall, the serf and vassal
Held, that night their Christmas wassail;
Many a carol, old and saintly,
Sang the minstrels and the waits;

And so loud these Saxon gleemen
Sang to slaves the songs of freemen,
That the storm was heard but faintly,
Knocking at the castle-gates.

Till at length the lays they chanted
Reached the chamber terror-haunted,
Where the monk, with accents holy,
Whispered at the baron's ear.

Tears upon his eyelids glistened,
As he paused awhile and listened,
And the dying baron slowly
Turned his weary head to hear.

"Wassail for the kingly stranger
Born and cradled in a manger!
King, like David, priest, like Aaron,
Christ is born to set us free!"

And the lightning showed the sainted
Figures on the casement painted,
And exclaimed the shuddering baron,
"Miserere, Domine!"

In that hour of deep contrition
He beheld, with clearer vision,
Through all outward show and fashion,
Justice, the Avenger, rise.

All the pomp of earth had vanished,
Falsehood and deceit were banished,
Reason spake more loud than passion,
And the truth wore no disguise.

Every vassal of his banner,
Every serf born to his manor,
All those wronged and wretched creatures,
By his hand were freed again.

And, as on the sacred missal
He recorded their dismissal,
Death relaxed his iron features,
And the monk replied, "Amen!"

Many centuries have been numbered
Since in death the baron slumbered
By the convent's sculptured portal,
Mingling with the common dust:

But the good deed, through the ages
Living in historic pages,
Brighter grows and gleams immortal,
Unconsumed by moth or rust

Editor 1 Interpretation

"The Norman Baron" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: A Detailed Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Have you ever read a poem that takes you on a journey through time and space, and makes you feel as though you have lived through the experiences described by the poet? "The Norman Baron" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one such poem. It takes us back to the time of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, and tells the story of a proud and powerful baron who is brought down by his own arrogance and hubris. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the various themes and motifs in the poem and examine the ways in which Longfellow creates a vivid and compelling narrative that is both historically accurate and emotionally resonant.


Before we delve into the details of the poem, let us first provide a brief synopsis of the plot. The poem opens with a description of the Norman Baron, a man of great wealth and power who is feared and respected by all who know him. He is proud of his Norman heritage and looks down upon the Anglo-Saxon peasants who toil on his lands. One day, a minstrel comes to his castle and sings a song that mocks the Normans and praises the Saxons. The Baron is incensed by this insult to his honor and orders the minstrel to be hanged. However, he soon realizes that he has made a grave mistake, as the Saxons rise up in rebellion against him and he is forced to flee for his life. He eventually finds refuge in a monastery, where he reflects on his past deeds and repents of his pride and cruelty. In the end, he dies a penitent and humble man.

Historical Accuracy

One of the most striking aspects of "The Norman Baron" is its historical accuracy. Longfellow was a meticulous researcher and he went to great lengths to ensure that the details of his poem were as accurate as possible. He consulted with historians and scholars and read numerous accounts of the Norman Conquest in order to create a realistic and authentic portrayal of the period. As a result, the poem is filled with accurate descriptions of the costumes, customs, and social hierarchy of the time. For example, Longfellow describes the Baron's armor in great detail, noting that it is made of "steel and brass" and adorned with "plumes and pennons." He also describes the peasants as "serfs" who are bound to the land and subject to the Baron's whims.

But Longfellow's accuracy goes beyond mere descriptions of clothing and customs. He also captures the complex political and social tensions of the period. The Norman Conquest was a time of great upheaval and division, as the Normans sought to establish their rule over a conquered population. Longfellow captures this tension in the character of the Baron, who is torn between his loyalty to his Norman heritage and his duty to rule justly over the Saxons. As the poem progresses, we see the Baron's arrogance and pride lead him to make a fatal mistake, as he underestimates the power of the Saxons and fails to recognize the importance of winning their hearts and minds. This historical accuracy is one of the strengths of the poem, as it creates a vivid and compelling picture of a tumultuous period in English history.

Themes and Motifs

"The Norman Baron" is a poem that is rich in themes and motifs, many of which are intertwined and interdependent. Let us examine some of the most prominent themes and motifs in the poem and explore their significance.

Pride and Hubris

One of the most prominent themes in the poem is pride and hubris. The Baron is a man who is consumed by his own sense of superiority and entitlement. He is proud of his Norman heritage and looks down upon the Saxons as inferior and unworthy. This pride blinds him to the reality of the situation and leads him to make rash and foolish decisions. When the minstrel sings a song that insults the Normans, the Baron's pride is wounded and he reacts with anger and violence. He orders the minstrel to be hanged without considering the consequences of his actions. This pride and hubris ultimately bring about the Baron's downfall, as he is unable to recognize his own weaknesses and limitations.

Justice and Mercy

Another prominent theme in the poem is justice and mercy. The Baron is a man who is responsible for administering justice in his lands, but he often does so with cruelty and harshness. He is quick to punish those who cross him and shows little mercy to those who are less fortunate than him. However, when he finds himself in a position of weakness and vulnerability, he begins to realize the importance of mercy and compassion. He seeks refuge in a monastery where he is shown kindness and mercy by the monks. This experience leads him to reflect on his past actions and to repent of his pride and cruelty. In the end, he dies a penitent and humble man, having learned the importance of justice and mercy.

Betrayal and Redemption

Betrayal and redemption are also important themes in the poem. The Baron's downfall is brought about by his own pride and arrogance, but it is also the result of betrayal by those he thought were loyal to him. The Saxons rise up against him and he is forced to flee for his life. However, it is through this experience of betrayal and suffering that the Baron is able to find redemption. He seeks refuge in a monastery and spends his remaining days in repentance and reflection. This experience of redemption is a powerful reminder that even the most prideful and arrogant of men can find redemption through humility and self-reflection.

Music and Song

Music and song are important motifs in the poem. The minstrel's song is what sets off the chain of events that leads to the Baron's downfall. His mocking lyrics incite the Baron's anger and lead to the execution of the minstrel. However, music and song also play a redemptive role in the poem. The Baron finds solace in the music of the monks in the monastery, and it is through this music that he is able to find peace and repentance. Music and song are a powerful reminder of the role that art can play in our lives, both as a source of joy and as a means of reflection and introspection.


In conclusion, "The Norman Baron" is a powerful and emotionally resonant poem that explores themes of pride, justice, mercy, betrayal, and redemption. Longfellow's meticulous research and attention to historical accuracy create a vivid and compelling picture of the Norman Conquest of England. The poem's themes and motifs are intertwined and interdependent, creating a complex and nuanced narrative that is both historically accurate and emotionally resonant. Through the character of the Baron, Longfellow reminds us of the dangers of pride and arrogance, and the importance of justice and mercy. He also reminds us that even the most flawed and imperfect of characters can find redemption through humility and self-reflection. "The Norman Baron" is a poem that has stood the test of time, and continues to inspire and move readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Norman Baron by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a beautiful piece of literature that tells the story of a Norman Baron who is proud of his heritage and his lineage. The poem is written in Longfellow's signature style, which is characterized by its simplicity and elegance. In this analysis, we will take a closer look at the poem and explore its themes, imagery, and symbolism.

The poem begins with the introduction of the Norman Baron, who is described as a man of great pride and honor. He is proud of his lineage and his noble heritage, which he believes sets him apart from the common people. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it establishes the Baron's character and his beliefs.

The second stanza introduces the conflict of the poem. The Baron is challenged by a minstrel who questions his pride and his honor. The minstrel sings a song that mocks the Baron's pride and suggests that he is not as noble as he thinks he is. This confrontation sets the stage for the rest of the poem, as the Baron must defend his honor and prove his worth.

The third stanza is where the poem really starts to shine. Longfellow uses vivid imagery to describe the Baron's response to the minstrel's challenge. The Baron is described as rising up in anger, his eyes flashing with fury. He draws his sword and challenges the minstrel to a duel, determined to prove his honor and his worth.

The fourth stanza is where the poem takes a surprising turn. Instead of fighting the minstrel, the Baron chooses to listen to his song. He realizes that the minstrel's words are true, and that his pride has blinded him to the truth. The Baron is humbled by this realization, and he asks the minstrel to forgive him for his arrogance.

The fifth and final stanza is where the poem reaches its climax. The Baron renounces his pride and his noble heritage, realizing that they are not what truly define him. He declares that he is a man like any other, and that he will live his life with humility and kindness. The poem ends on a hopeful note, as the Baron embraces his newfound humility and sets out to live a better life.

The themes of the poem are universal and timeless. The poem explores the dangers of pride and the importance of humility. It also touches on the idea that our heritage and lineage do not define us, and that we are all equal in the eyes of God. These themes are as relevant today as they were when Longfellow wrote the poem over a century ago.

The imagery in the poem is also noteworthy. Longfellow uses vivid descriptions to bring the Baron and the minstrel to life. The Baron is described as a proud and noble figure, while the minstrel is portrayed as a humble and wise man. The contrast between the two characters is striking, and it helps to emphasize the themes of the poem.

The symbolism in the poem is also worth exploring. The sword that the Baron draws represents his pride and his willingness to fight for his honor. The minstrel's song represents the truth that the Baron needs to hear in order to overcome his pride. The Baron's renunciation of his noble heritage represents his acceptance of his own humanity and his willingness to live a humble life.

In conclusion, The Norman Baron by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a classic poem that is still relevant today. It explores universal themes such as pride, humility, and the importance of accepting our own humanity. The imagery and symbolism in the poem are also noteworthy, as they help to bring the characters and themes to life. Overall, The Norman Baron is a beautiful piece of literature that is well worth reading and studying.

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