'Skeleton in Armor, The' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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"Speak! speak I thou fearful guest
Who, with thy hollow breast
Still in rude armor drest,
Comest to daunt me!
Wrapt not in Eastern balms,
Bat with thy fleshless palms
Stretched, as if asking alms,
Why dost thou haunt me?"

Then, from those cavernous eyes
Pale flashes seemed to rise,
As when the Northern skies
Gleam in December;
And, like the water's flow
Under December's snow,
Came a dull voice of woe
From the heart's chamber.

"I was a Viking old!
My deeds, though manifold,
No Skald in song has told,
No Saga taught thee!
Take heed, that in thy verse
Thou dost the tale rehearse,
Else dread a dead man's curse;
For this I sought thee.

"Far in the Northern Land,
By the wild Baltic's strand,
I, with my childish hand,
Tamed the gerfalcon;
And, with my skates fast-bound,
Skimmed the half-frozen Sound,
That the poor whimpering hound
Trembled to walk on.

"Oft to his frozen lair
Tracked I the grisly bear,
While from my path the hare
Fled like a shadow;
Oft through the forest dark
Followed the were-wolf's bark,
Until the soaring lark
Sang from the meadow.

"But when I older grew,
Joining a corsair's crew,
O'er the dark sea I flew
With the marauders.
Wild was the life we led;
Many the souls that sped,
Many the hearts that bled,
By our stern orders.

"Many a wassail-bout
Wore the long Winter out;
Often our midnight shout
Set the cocks crowing,
As we the Berserk's tale
Measured in cups of ale,
Draining the oaken pail,
Filled to o'erflowing.

"Once as I told in glee
Tales of the stormy sea,
Soft eyes did gaze on me,
Burning yet tender;
And as the white stars shine
On the dark Norway pine,
On that dark heart of mine
Fell their soft splendor.

"I wooed the blue-eyed maid,
Yielding, yet half afraid,
And in the forest's shade
Our vows were plighted.
Under its loosened vest
Fluttered her little breast
Like birds within their nest
By the hawk frighted.

"Bright in her father's hall
Shields gleamed upon the wall,
Loud sang the minstrels all,
Chanting his glory;
When of old Hildebrand
I asked his daughter's hand,
Mute did the minstrels stand
To hear my story.

"While the brown ale he quaffed,
Loud then the champion laughed,
And as the wind-gusts waft
The sea-foam brightly,
So the loud laugh of scorn,
Out of those lips unshorn,
From the deep drinking-horn
Blew the foam lightly.

"She was a Prince's child,
I but a Viking wild,
And though she blushed and smiled,
I was discarded!
Should not the dove so white
Follow the sea-mew's flight,
Why did they leave that night
Her nest unguarded?

"Scarce had I put to sea,
Bearing the maid with me,
Fairest of all was she
Among the Norsemen!
When on the white sea-strand,
Waving his armed hand,
Saw we old Hildebrand,
With twenty horsemen.

"Then launched they to the blast,
Bent like a reed each mast,
Yet we were gaining fast,
When the wind failed us;
And with a sudden flaw
Came round the gusty Skaw,
So that our foe we saw
Laugh as he hailed us.

"And as to catch the gale
Round veered the flapping sail,
Death I was the helmsman's hail,
Death without quarter!
Mid-ships with iron keel
Struck we her ribs of steel
Down her black hulk did reel
Through the black water!

"As with his wings aslant,
Sails the fierce cormorant,
Seeking some rocky haunt
With his prey laden,
So toward the open main,
Beating to sea again,
Through the wild hurricane,
Bore I the maiden.

"Three weeks we westward bore,
And when the storm was o'er,
Cloud-like we saw the shore
Stretching to leeward;
There for my lady's bower
Built I the lofty tower,
Which, to this very hour,
Stands looking seaward.

"There lived we many years;
Time dried the maiden's tears
She had forgot her fears,
She was a mother.
Death closed her mild blue eyes,
Under that tower she lies;
Ne'er shall the sun arise
On such another!

"Still grew my bosom then.
Still as a stagnant fen!
Hateful to me were men,
The sunlight hateful!
In the vast forest here,
Clad in my warlike gear,
Fell I upon my spear,
O, death was grateful!

"Thus, seamed with many scars,
Bursting these prison bars,
Up to its native stars
My soul ascended!
There from the flowing bowl
Deep drinks the warrior's soul,
Skoal! to the Northland! skoal!"
Thus the tale ended.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Skeleton in Armor: A Masterpiece of Emotion and Imagination

Are you looking for a poem that will take you to a world of mystery, adventure, and romance? Look no further than "The Skeleton in Armor," one of the most famous poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This epic poem tells the story of a Viking warrior who falls in love with a beautiful maiden and fights a fierce battle against his enemies. But what makes this poem so special? Let's explore its literary devices, themes, and historical context to find out.

Literary Devices: From Imagery to Irony

One of the most striking features of "The Skeleton in Armor" is its vivid imagery. Longfellow uses sensory details to bring the setting and characters to life, such as the "black rocks" and "waves white with foam" of the sea, the "grim warrior" with his "glaive and buckler," and the "lovely maiden" with her "bright blue eyes" and "golden hair." Through these images, we can visualize the landscape, the people, and the emotions they feel.

Another literary device that Longfellow employs is the use of irony. The Viking warrior, who appears at first as a fearsome and invincible warrior, is revealed to be a lonely and tragic figure. He tells his story to a group of sailors who mock him and doubt his veracity, making him feel even more isolated and misunderstood. The irony lies in the fact that the Viking, who once reveled in the glory of battle and conquest, is now forgotten and ignored by the very people he used to fight for.

Themes: Love, Death, and Identity

At its core, "The Skeleton in Armor" is a poem about love and death, two themes that are intertwined in the Viking's story. The warrior falls in love with the maiden but is separated from her by fate and the cruel realities of war. He also faces his own mortality, as he knows that his body will decay and turn into a skeleton, a fate that he accepts with resignation and even humor. The poem's title itself suggests the theme of identity, as the Viking's skeleton becomes a symbol of his past life and his current state of existence.

Historical Context: Longfellow's Viking Craze

"The Skeleton in Armor" was written in 1841, at a time when Longfellow was fascinated by Norse mythology and Scandinavian culture. He had recently translated a collection of Icelandic sagas, which sparked his interest in the Viking Age and its heroic tales. The poem's setting, characters, and themes reflect this interest, as Longfellow recreates the world of the Vikings with accuracy and creativity.

However, Longfellow's portrayal of the Vikings was not entirely accurate or unbiased. He relied on popular stereotypes of the Vikings as fierce and bloodthirsty warriors, ignoring their peaceful pursuits such as farming, trading, and exploration. He also romanticized their culture and customs, idealizing their values of bravery, loyalty, and honor while downplaying their flaws and contradictions. This idealization of the Vikings contributed to the rise of Norse revivalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, as people sought to emulate their perceived virtues and traditions.

Interpretation: The Paradox of Heroism

So, what is the meaning of "The Skeleton in Armor" beyond its literary devices, themes, and historical context? To me, the poem is a meditation on the paradox of heroism, the tension between glory and tragedy that defines the lives of those who seek greatness. The Viking warrior embodies this paradox, as he is both a hero and a victim, a conqueror and a captive, a lover and a mourner. He is a hero because of his bravery, his loyalty, and his skill in battle, but he is also a victim of fate, of war, and of his own mortality. He is a conqueror because of his victories, his spoils, and his reputation, but he is also a captive of his own past, his own regrets, and his own solitude. He is a lover because of his passion, his tenderness, and his devotion, but he is also a mourner of his lost love, his lost youth, and his lost identity.

The poem's conclusion, in which the Viking's skeleton is revealed to the sailors, is a powerful image of this paradox. The skeleton, once the vessel of a living and breathing human being, now becomes a symbol of death and decay, of the impermanence and futility of human endeavors. The sailors, who once mocked the Viking's story, now realize the truth of his words and the tragedy of his fate. The poem thus leaves us with a sense of sadness and awe, of the beauty and the sorrow of human existence.

Conclusion: A Must-Read for Poetry Lovers

In conclusion, "The Skeleton in Armor" is a masterpiece of emotion and imagination, a poem that transports us to a world of epic proportions and universal themes. Longfellow's use of imagery, irony, and historical context, combined with his poetic language and storytelling skills, create a work of art that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Whether you are a fan of poetry, history, or mythology, this poem is a must-read for anyone who wants to experience the power and the magic of literature. So, what are you waiting for? Grab a copy of "The Skeleton in Armor," and let yourself be swept away by its spellbinding tale.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Skeleton in Armor: A Masterpiece of Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century, wrote a poem that has stood the test of time. Skeleton in Armor is a classic poem that has been studied and analyzed by scholars and poetry enthusiasts for decades. The poem is a narrative that tells the story of a Viking warrior who is buried in his armor. The poem is a masterpiece of Longfellow's work, and it is a testament to his skill as a poet.

The poem is divided into three parts, each of which tells a different part of the story. The first part of the poem introduces the reader to the Viking warrior and his life. The second part of the poem tells the story of the warrior's death and burial. The third part of the poem is a reflection on the warrior's life and legacy.

The first part of the poem is a description of the Viking warrior. Longfellow describes the warrior as a "tall and stately man" who is "clothed in armor." The warrior is described as being "grim and dark" and "silent as the dead." Longfellow uses vivid imagery to create a picture of the warrior in the reader's mind. The reader can imagine the warrior standing tall and proud, ready for battle.

The second part of the poem tells the story of the warrior's death and burial. Longfellow describes the warrior's death as being "sudden and swift." The warrior is buried in his armor, and Longfellow describes the burial as being "solemn and still." The reader can imagine the warrior being laid to rest, his armor shining in the sunlight.

The third part of the poem is a reflection on the warrior's life and legacy. Longfellow describes the warrior as being "fierce and brave" and "a hero of his time." The reader can imagine the warrior's legacy living on, even after his death. Longfellow uses the warrior's story to illustrate the idea that even though we may die, our legacy can live on.

The poem is written in Longfellow's signature style, which is characterized by its use of vivid imagery and descriptive language. Longfellow uses words like "grim," "dark," and "silent" to create a picture of the warrior in the reader's mind. Longfellow's use of imagery is so powerful that the reader can almost feel the weight of the warrior's armor.

Longfellow also uses repetition in the poem to emphasize certain points. For example, he repeats the phrase "Skeleton in Armor" throughout the poem. This repetition serves to reinforce the idea that the warrior is buried in his armor and that his legacy lives on.

The poem also has a strong rhythm and rhyme scheme. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, which means that each line has four iambs. An iamb is a metrical foot that consists of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. The poem also has an ABAB rhyme scheme, which means that the first and third lines of each stanza rhyme, as do the second and fourth lines.

The poem's structure and form serve to reinforce the poem's themes. The use of repetition and rhyme scheme serve to emphasize the idea that the warrior's legacy lives on. The strong rhythm of the poem creates a sense of momentum and movement, which reflects the warrior's life as a Viking warrior.

In conclusion, Skeleton in Armor is a masterpiece of Longfellow's work. The poem tells the story of a Viking warrior and his legacy. Longfellow's use of vivid imagery, repetition, and rhyme scheme serve to reinforce the poem's themes. The poem is a testament to Longfellow's skill as a poet and his ability to create powerful and memorable works of literature.

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