'Ghosts , The' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Never stoops the soaring vulture
On his quarry in the desert,
On the sick or wounded bison,
But another vulture, watching
From his high aerial look-out,
Sees the downward plunge, and follows;
And a third pursues the second,
Coming from the invisible ether,
First a speck, and then a vulture,
Till the air is dark with pinions.
So disasters come not singly;
But as if they watched and waited,
Scanning one another's motions,
When the first descends, the others
Follow, follow, gathering flock-wise
Round their victim, sick and wounded,
First a shadow, then a sorrow,
Till the air is dark with anguish.
Now, o'er all the dreary North-land,
Mighty Peboan, the Winter,
Breathing on the lakes and rivers,
Into stone had changed their waters.
From his hair he shook the snow-flakes,
Till the plains were strewn with whiteness,
One uninterrupted level,
As if, stooping, the Creator
With his hand had smoothed them over.
Through the forest, wide and wailing,
Roamed the hunter on his snow-shoes;
In the village worked the women,
Pounded maize, or dressed the deer-skin;
And the young men played together
On the ice the noisy ball-play,
On the plain the dance of snow-shoes.
One dark evening, after sundown,
In her wigwam Laughing Water
Sat with old Nokomis, waiting
For the steps of Hiawatha
Homeward from the hunt returning.
On their faces gleamed the firelight,
Painting them with streaks of crimson,
In the eyes of old Nokomis
Glimmered like the watery moonlight,
In the eyes of Laughing Water
Glistened like the sun in water;
And behind them crouched their shadows
In the corners of the wigwam,
And the smoke In wreaths above them
Climbed and crowded through the smoke-flue.
Then the curtain of the doorway
From without was slowly lifted;
Brighter glowed the fire a moment,
And a moment swerved the smoke-wreath,
As two women entered softly,
Passed the doorway uninvited,
Without word of salutation,
Without sign of recognition,
Sat down in the farthest corner,
Crouching low among the shadows.
From their aspect and their garments,
Strangers seemed they in the village;
Very pale and haggard were they,
As they sat there sad and silent,
Trembling, cowering with the shadows.
Was it the wind above the smoke-flue,
Muttering down into the wigwam?
Was it the owl, the Koko-koho,
Hooting from the dismal forest?
Sure a voice said in the silence:
"These are corpses clad in garments,
These are ghosts that come to haunt you,
From the kingdom of Ponemah,
From the land of the Hereafter!"
Homeward now came Hiawatha
From his hunting in the forest,
With the snow upon his tresses,
And the red deer on his shoulders.
At the feet of Laughing Water
Down he threw his lifeless burden;
Nobler, handsomer she thought him,
Than when first he came to woo her,
First threw down the deer before her,
As a token of his wishes,
As a promise of the future.
Then he turned and saw the strangers,
Cowering, crouching with the shadows;
Said within himself, "Who are they?
What strange guests has Minnehaha?"
But he questioned not the strangers,
Only spake to bid them welcome
To his lodge, his food, his fireside.
When the evening meal was ready,
And the deer had been divided,
Both the pallid guests, the strangers,
Springing from among the shadows,
Seized upon the choicest portions,
Seized the white fat of the roebuck,
Set apart for Laughing Water,
For the wife of Hiawatha;
Without asking, without thanking,
Eagerly devoured the morsels,
Flitted back among the shadows
In the corner of the wigwam.
Not a word spake Hiawatha,
Not a motion made Nokomis,
Not a gesture Laughing Water;
Not a change came o'er their features;
Only Minnehaha softly
Whispered, saying, "They are famished;
Let them do what best delights them;
Let them eat, for they are famished."
Many a daylight dawned and darkened,
Many a night shook off the daylight
As the pine shakes off the snow-flakes
From the midnight of its branches;
Day by day the guests unmoving
Sat there silent in the wigwam;
But by night, in storm or starlight,
Forth they went into the forest,
Bringing fire-wood to the wigwam,
Bringing pine-cones for the burning,
Always sad and always silent.
And whenever Hiawatha
Came from fishing or from hunting,
When the evening meal was ready,
And the food had been divided,
Gliding from their darksome corner,
Came the pallid guests, the strangers,
Seized upon the choicest portions
Set aside for Laughing Water,
And without rebuke or question
Flitted back among the shadows.
Never once had Hiawatha
By a word or look reproved them;
Never once had old Nokomis
Made a gesture of impatience;
Never once had Laughing Water
Shown resentment at the outrage.
All had they endured in silence,
That the rights of guest and stranger,
That the virtue of free-giving,
By a look might not be lessened,
By a word might not be broken.
Once at midnight Hiawatha,
Ever wakeful, ever watchful,
In the wigwam, dimly lighted
By the brands that still were burning,
By the glimmering, flickering firelight
Heard a sighing, oft repeated,
From his couch rose Hiawatha,
From his shaggy hides of bison,
Pushed aside the deer-skin curtain,
Saw the pallid guests, the shadows,
Sitting upright on their couches,
Weeping in the silent midnight.
And he said: "O guests! why is it
That your hearts are so afflicted,
That you sob so in the midnight?
Has perchance the old Nokomis,
Has my wife, my Minnehaha,
Wronged or grieved you by unkindness,
Failed in hospitable duties?"
Then the shadows ceased from weeping,
Ceased from sobbing and lamenting,
And they said, with gentle voices:
"We are ghosts of the departed,
Souls of those who once were with you.
From the realms of Chibiabos
Hither have we come to try you,
Hither have we come to warn you.
"Cries of grief and lamentation
Reach us in the Blessed Islands;
Cries of anguish from the living,
Calling back their friends departed,
Sadden us with useless sorrow.
Therefore have we come to try you;
No one knows us, no one heeds us.
We are but a burden to you,
And we see that the departed
Have no place among the living.
"Think of this, O Hiawatha!
Speak of it to all the people,
That henceforward and forever
They no more with lamentations
Sadden the souls of the departed
In the Islands of the Blessed.
"Do not lay such heavy burdens
In the graves of those you bury,
Not such weight of furs and wampum,
Not such weight of pots and kettles,
For the spirits faint beneath them.
Only give them food to carry,
Only give them fire to light them.
"Four days is the spirit's journey
To the land of ghosts and shadows,
Four its lonely night encampments;
Four times must their fires be lighted.
Therefore, when the dead are buried,
Let a fire, as night approaches,
Four times on the grave be kindled,
That the soul upon its journey
May not lack the cheerful firelight,
May not grope about in darkness.
"Farewell, noble Hiawatha!
We have put you to the trial,
To the proof have put your patience,
By the insult of our presence,
By the outrage of our actions.
We have found you great and noble.
Fail not in the greater trial,
Faint not In the harder struggle."
When they ceased, a sudden darkness
Fell and filled the silent wigwam.
Hiawatha heard a rustle
As of garments trailing by him,
Heard the curtain of the doorway
Lifted by a hand he saw not,
Felt the cold breath of the night air,
For a moment saw the starlight;
But he saw the ghosts no longer,
Saw no more the wandering spirits
From the kingdom of Ponemah,
From the land of the Hereafter.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Haunting Beauty of Longfellow's "Ghosts"

As a classic American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's work has been celebrated for its romanticism, its historical sensibilities, and its ability to convey the beauty and pain of human experience. In his poem "Ghosts," Longfellow explores the idea of haunting as a metaphor for the irrepressible presence of the past in the present. Through vivid imagery and evocative language, Longfellow creates a haunting and powerful portrait of memory and loss. In this literary criticism, we will explore the themes and symbolism of "Ghosts," examining how Longfellow's imagery and language contribute to the poem's emotional impact.

The Symbolism of the Ghost

The central image of "Ghosts" is, of course, the ghost itself. In Longfellow's poem, the ghost represents the past, specifically the memories and experiences that continue to shape us long after they have passed. The ghost is a powerful symbol of the persistence of the past, and of the ways in which it can continue to haunt us even as we try to move forward. Longfellow's ghost is not a frightening or malevolent presence, but rather a melancholy one, a reminder of what has been lost and what can never be regained.

But the ghost is not just a symbol of the past; it is also a symbol of the present. Longfellow's ghost is a representation of the emotions and memories that we carry with us in the present, shaping our thoughts and actions. The ghost is a reminder that our past is never truly gone, but rather continues to influence us in ways that we may not even be aware of.

The Power of Imagery

One of the most striking aspects of "Ghosts" is Longfellow's use of vivid and evocative imagery. Through careful attention to detail and a gift for descriptive language, Longfellow creates a haunting and memorable portrait of memory and loss.

Consider, for example, the opening lines of the poem:

"I dwell alone -- I dwell alone, alone,
Whilst full my river flows down to the sea,
Gilded with flashing boats
That bring no friend to me."

In these lines, Longfellow creates a vivid sense of isolation and loneliness, emphasizing the speaker's separation from the world around him. The image of the river flowing to the sea is particularly powerful, suggesting the inexorable passage of time and the inevitability of change. The boats, which "bring no friend" to the speaker, emphasize his sense of isolation and the idea that he is alone with his memories.

Another striking image in the poem comes later, when Longfellow describes the ghost itself:

"Thy face is like a river,
Thy voice is like a sea,
Thy tears fall like the dewdrops
From flowers on the lea."

Here, Longfellow creates a vivid portrait of the ghost, using sensory details to bring it to life in the reader's mind. The comparison to a river and a sea emphasizes the ghost's connection to the natural world and its sense of vastness and power. The tears falling like dewdrops from flowers on the lea create a poignant and melancholy image, emphasizing the ghost's sadness and the idea that it is a reminder of what has been lost.

The Poetry of Loss

At its core, "Ghosts" is a poem about loss. Longfellow's imagery and language create a haunting sense of nostalgia and longing, emphasizing the idea that the past is something that can never truly be recaptured. Through the use of vivid, sensory details, Longfellow emphasizes the emotional impact of memory and the ways in which it can continue to shape us long after the events themselves have passed.

Consider, for example, the final lines of the poem:

"And so beside the Silent Sea
I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from Him can come to me
On ocean or on shore."

These lines are both haunting and poignant, emphasizing the speaker's acceptance of his isolation and his sense of resignation in the face of loss. The image of the Silent Sea emphasizes the finality of death and the idea that the past is something that can never truly be recaptured. The phrase "muffled oar" creates a sense of melancholy and finality, emphasizing the idea that the speaker is waiting for something that can never truly come back.


In "Ghosts," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow creates a haunting and vivid portrait of memory and loss. Through his use of striking imagery and evocative language, Longfellow emphasizes the emotional impact of the past on the present, and the ways in which memory can continue to shape us long after the events themselves have passed. Whether read as a meditation on the mysteries of the human psyche or as a poignant elegy for what has been lost, "Ghosts" remains a powerful and memorable work of poetry, one that speaks to the universal human experience of longing, nostalgia, and the persistence of memory.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Ghosts: An Analysis of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Classic

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Poetry Ghosts" is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a hauntingly beautiful piece that captures the essence of poetry and the power it holds over our lives. In this analysis, we will delve deeper into the meaning of the poem, its structure, and the literary devices used by Longfellow to create a masterpiece that has inspired generations.

The poem begins with the line "Thou art the dream of poets." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem and establishes the idea that poetry is a dream-like state that poets strive to capture. The use of the word "dream" is significant because it implies that poetry is not a tangible thing but rather an intangible concept that exists only in the minds of those who create it.

The next few lines of the poem describe the power of poetry and how it can transport us to another world. Longfellow writes, "A light, a guide, a fairy beam, / That leads the night-traveler on." Here, he is comparing poetry to a light that guides us through the darkness. This metaphor is powerful because it suggests that poetry can help us navigate through the difficult times in our lives and lead us to a better place.

Longfellow then goes on to describe the different forms that poetry can take. He writes, "A song of love, a hymn of praise, / A battle-cry, a funeral dirge." This line highlights the versatility of poetry and how it can be used to express a wide range of emotions. Whether it is a love poem, a song of praise, or a battle cry, poetry has the power to move us in ways that nothing else can.

The next few lines of the poem describe the way in which poetry can inspire us to greatness. Longfellow writes, "Thou art the inspiration / Of all that man has done." Here, he is suggesting that poetry has been the driving force behind many of the great achievements of humanity. Whether it is the creation of great works of art or the exploration of new frontiers, poetry has played a significant role in inspiring people to reach for the stars.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful. Longfellow writes, "Thou art the magic of the mind, / The mystery of the heart." Here, he is suggesting that poetry is not just a product of the mind but also a product of the heart. It is something that comes from deep within us and has the power to touch the hearts of others.

The structure of the poem is also significant. It is written in quatrains, with each stanza consisting of four lines. This structure gives the poem a sense of order and symmetry, which is appropriate given the subject matter. The use of rhyme and meter also adds to the musicality of the poem and helps to create a sense of rhythm that is pleasing to the ear.

Longfellow also uses a number of literary devices to create a sense of depth and meaning in the poem. One of the most significant of these is metaphor. Throughout the poem, he uses metaphor to compare poetry to a variety of different things, including a dream, a light, and a magic. These metaphors help to create a sense of mystery and wonder around the concept of poetry and suggest that it is something that is difficult to define but easy to recognize.

Another literary device that Longfellow uses is personification. He personifies poetry throughout the poem, giving it human-like qualities such as the ability to inspire and guide. This personification helps to create a sense of intimacy between the reader and the subject matter and makes the poem more relatable.

In conclusion, "Poetry Ghosts" is a classic poem that captures the essence of poetry and the power it holds over our lives. Longfellow's use of metaphor, personification, and other literary devices helps to create a sense of depth and meaning that has inspired generations. Whether you are a lover of poetry or simply appreciate the beauty of language, this poem is sure to leave a lasting impression.

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