'Famine , The' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Oh the long and dreary Winter!
Oh the cold and cruel Winter!
Ever thicker, thicker, thicker
Froze the ice on lake and river,
Ever deeper, deeper, deeper
Fell the snow o'er all the landscape,
Fell the covering snow, and drifted
Through the forest, round the village.
Hardly from his buried wigwam
Could the hunter force a passage;
With his mittens and his snow-shoes
Vainly walked he through the forest,
Sought for bird or beast and found none,
Saw no track of deer or rabbit,
In the snow beheld no footprints,
In the ghastly, gleaming forest
Fell, and could not rise from weakness,
Perished there from cold and hunger.
Oh the famine and the fever!
Oh the wasting of the famine!
Oh the blasting of the fever!
Oh the wailing of the children!
Oh the anguish of the women!
All the earth was sick and famished;
Hungry was the air around them,
Hungry was the sky above them,
And the hungry stars in heaven
Like the eyes of wolves glared at them!
Into Hiawatha's wigwam
Came two other guests, as silent
As the ghosts were, and as gloomy,
Waited not to be invited
Did not parley at the doorway
Sat there without word of welcome
In the seat of Laughing Water;
Looked with haggard eyes and hollow
At the face of Laughing Water.
And the foremost said: "Behold me!
I am Famine, Bukadawin!"
And the other said: "Behold me!
I am Fever, Ahkosewin!"
And the lovely Minnehaha
Shuddered as they looked upon her,
Shuddered at the words they uttered,
Lay down on her bed in silence,
Hid her face, but made no answer;
Lay there trembling, freezing, burning
At the looks they cast upon her,
At the fearful words they uttered.
Forth into the empty forest
Rushed the maddened Hiawatha;
In his heart was deadly sorrow,
In his face a stony firmness;
On his brow the sweat of anguish
Started, but it froze and fell not.
Wrapped in furs and armed for hunting,
With his mighty bow of ash-tree,
With his quiver full of arrows,
With his mittens, Minjekahwun,
Into the vast and vacant forest
On his snow-shoes strode he forward.
"Gitche Manito, the Mighty!"
Cried he with his face uplifted
In that bitter hour of anguish,
"Give your children food, O father!
Give us food, or we must perish!
Give me food for Minnehaha,
For my dying Minnehaha!"
Through the far-resounding forest,
Through the forest vast and vacant
Rang that cry of desolation,
But there came no other answer
Than the echo of his crying,
Than the echo of the woodlands,
"Minnehaha! Minnehaha!"
All day long roved Hiawatha
In that melancholy forest,
Through the shadow of whose thickets,
In the pleasant days of Summer,
Of that ne'er forgotten Summer,
He had brought his young wife homeward
From the land of the Dacotahs;
When the birds sang in the thickets,
And the streamlets laughed and glistened,
And the air was full of fragrance,
And the lovely Laughing Water
Said with voice that did not tremble,
"I will follow you, my husband!"
In the wigwam with Nokomis,
With those gloomy guests that watched her,
With the Famine and the Fever,
She was lying, the Beloved,
She, the dying Minnehaha.
"Hark!" she said; "I hear a rushing,
Hear a roaring and a rushing,
Hear the Falls of Minnehaha
Calling to me from a distance!"
"No, my child!" said old Nokomis,
"`T is the night-wind in the pine-trees!"
"Look!" she said; "I see my father
Standing lonely at his doorway,
Beckoning to me from his wigwam
In the land of the Dacotahs!"
"No, my child!" said old Nokomis.
"`T is the smoke, that waves and beckons!"
"Ah!" said she, "the eyes of Pauguk
Glare upon me in the darkness,
I can feel his icy fingers
Clasping mine amid the darkness!
Hiawatha! Hiawatha!"
And the desolate Hiawatha,
Far away amid the forest,
Miles away among the mountains,
Heard that sudden cry of anguish,
Heard the voice of Minnehaha
Calling to him in the darkness,
"Hiawatha! Hiawatha!"
Over snow-fields waste and pathless,
Under snow-encumbered branches,
Homeward hurried Hiawatha,
Empty-handed, heavy-hearted,
Heard Nokomis moaning, wailing:
"Wahonowin! Wahonowin!
Would that I had perished for you,
Would that I were dead as you are!
Wahonowin!. Wahonowin!"
And he rushed into the wigwam,
Saw the old Nokomis slowly
Rocking to and fro and moaning,
Saw his lovely Minnehaha
Lying dead and cold before him,
And his bursting heart within him
Uttered such a cry of anguish,
That the forest moaned and shuddered,
That the very stars in heaven
Shook and trembled with his anguish.
Then he sat down, still and speechless,
On the bed of Minnehaha,
At the feet of Laughing Water,
At those willing feet, that never
More would lightly run to meet him,
Never more would lightly follow.
With both hands his face he covered,
Seven long days and nights he sat there,
As if in a swoon he sat there,
Speechless, motionless, unconscious
Of the daylight or the darkness.
Then they buried Minnehaha;
In the snow a grave they made her
In the forest deep and darksome
Underneath the moaning hemlocks;
Clothed her in her richest garments
Wrapped her in her robes of ermine,
Covered her with snow, like ermine;
Thus they buried Minnehaha.
And at night a fire was lighted,
On her grave four times was kindled,
For her soul upon its journey
To the Islands of the Blessed.
From his doorway Hiawatha
Saw it burning In the forest,
Lighting up the gloomy hemlocks;
From his sleepless bed uprising,
From the bed of Minnehaha,
Stood and watched it at the doorway,
That it might not be extinguished,
Might not leave her in the darkness.
"Farewell!" said he, "Minnehaha!
Farewell, O my Laughing Water!
All my heart is buried with you,
All my thoughts go onward with you!
Come not back again to labor,
Come not back again to suffer,
Where the Famine and the Fever
Wear the heart and waste the body.
Soon my task will be completed,
Soon your footsteps I shall follow
To the Islands of the Blessed,
To the Kingdom of Ponemah,
To the Land of the Hereafter!"

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Detailed Literary Criticism and Interpretation of "Famine, The" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Have you ever read a poem that made you feel like you were a part of history? Have you ever read a poem that made you feel the despair and hopelessness of a situation? If not, then you need to read "Famine, The" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This poem takes you on a journey through a famine in Ireland and leaves you with a sense of sadness and empathy for those who suffered. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, literary devices, and historical context of this powerful poem.

Historical Context

Before we dive into the poem, let's first look at the historical context in which it was written. "Famine, The" was published in 1846, during the height of the Great Famine in Ireland. The potato crop, which was a staple for the Irish people, had failed due to disease and led to widespread starvation and death. The British government, which controlled Ireland at the time, was slow to respond to the crisis and provided little aid to the suffering Irish people. This led to a sense of anger and frustration among the Irish and fueled the desire for independence from British rule.

Longfellow, who was an American poet, was deeply affected by the Great Famine and wrote "Famine, The" as a way to express his sympathy and support for the Irish people. He uses his poetic talents to give voice to the suffering and despair of the Irish and to call attention to the injustices being committed by the British government.


Now let's turn our attention to the themes of the poem. One of the central themes of "Famine, The" is the struggle for survival in the face of overwhelming adversity. The Irish people are depicted as being in a desperate situation, with nothing to eat and no hope for the future. They are forced to resort to extreme measures, such as eating grass and bark, in order to stay alive. Longfellow captures the desperation and hopelessness of their situation in lines like:

And the people in the lane When they saw him, were heart-stricken, And whispered, "He is dead!" But they only said it low.

Another theme of the poem is the role of government in times of crisis. Longfellow is highly critical of the British government's response to the famine, portraying them as distant and uncaring. He contrasts this with the compassion and generosity of the American people, who are depicted as sending aid to the suffering Irish. This theme is highlighted in lines like:

But from a land more bleak and bare A voice has come, that fills the air, From Massachusetts' hills of prayer, A voice prophetic, that sublimes The sorrow of the coming times, And in the firmament afar Shines like a new and radiant star.

Finally, the poem also touches on the idea of the interconnectedness of humanity. Longfellow reminds us that the suffering of one group of people affects us all, and that we have a duty to help those in need. This theme is captured in lines like:

And when our brothers in our sight Are perishing in gloom and night, Shall we be deaf unto their cries, And see unmoved their dying eyes?

Literary Devices

Next, let's analyze the literary devices used in "Famine, The." One of the most prominent devices is imagery. Longfellow uses vivid and powerful descriptions to paint a picture of the famine and its effects on the Irish people. For example, in the following lines, he uses imagery to describe the starving children:

They are dying one by one, And no one hears their fasting cry; For the bread of life has all been gone, And they stagger forth to die.

Another literary device used in the poem is repetition. Longfellow repeats certain phrases and words to emphasize their importance and to create a sense of rhythm and rhyme. For example, the phrase "the famine came" is repeated throughout the poem, highlighting the central event that the poem revolves around. Additionally, the repetition of the phrase "shall we be deaf" emphasizes the importance of taking action and helping those in need.

Finally, Longfellow uses symbolism to convey deeper meanings in the poem. For example, the starving children can be seen as symbols of innocence and the failure of the British government to protect its citizens. Similarly, the American aid can be seen as a symbol of hope and compassion in the face of adversity.


So what does "Famine, The" mean? At its core, the poem is a call to action. Longfellow uses his poetic talents to draw attention to the suffering of the Irish people and to condemn the British government for their lack of action. He also calls on the American people to provide aid and support to the Irish. In doing so, he reminds us that we all have a duty to help those in need and to fight against injustice.

Moreover, the poem can be seen as a critique of imperialism and colonialism. The British government's mistreatment of the Irish can be seen as a result of their desire to maintain power and control over their colonies. Longfellow's portrayal of the suffering of the Irish can be seen as a critique of this system of exploitation.

Finally, "Famine, The" can be read as a warning. Longfellow reminds us that the suffering of one group of people can quickly spread and affect us all. He encourages us to take action and to fight against injustice before it is too late.


In conclusion, "Famine, The" is a powerful and moving poem that captures the despair and hopelessness of the Great Famine in Ireland. Longfellow uses vivid imagery, repetition, and symbolism to convey his message and to call on us to take action. He reminds us of our duty to help those in need and to fight against injustice. Moreover, the poem can be seen as a critique of imperialism and a warning of the consequences of neglecting the suffering of others. Reading "Famine, The" is a reminder of our shared humanity and our responsibility to care for one another.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Poetry Famine: A Masterpiece by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century, wrote a masterpiece called "The Poetry Famine." This poem is a powerful commentary on the state of poetry during his time, and it still resonates with readers today. In this article, we will analyze and explain this classic poem in detail.

The poem begins with a description of a "famine" that has struck the land. The speaker describes how the fields are barren, the rivers are dry, and the people are starving. This famine is not a literal one, but a metaphorical one. Longfellow is using this imagery to describe the state of poetry during his time. He is saying that there is a lack of good poetry being produced, and this is causing a hunger in the hearts of readers.

The second stanza of the poem describes the cause of this famine. Longfellow says that the poets of his time are "singing for bread." In other words, they are writing poetry not for the sake of art, but for the sake of making money. This is a criticism of the commercialization of poetry during the 19th century. Longfellow is saying that poets should write for the love of the art, not for the love of money.

The third stanza of the poem describes the effect of this famine. Longfellow says that the people are "famished for song." They are hungry for good poetry, but they cannot find it. This is a powerful image that speaks to the importance of poetry in our lives. Longfellow is saying that poetry is not just a luxury, but a necessity. We need poetry to nourish our souls and to give us hope in difficult times.

The fourth stanza of the poem describes the solution to this famine. Longfellow says that the poets must "sing for the love of singing." They must write poetry for the sake of the art, not for the sake of making money. This is a call to action for poets to return to the true purpose of poetry. Longfellow is saying that if poets write from the heart, their poetry will be nourishing to the souls of their readers.

The fifth and final stanza of the poem is a beautiful description of the power of poetry. Longfellow says that poetry is like a "fountain" that can "quench the thirst of the soul." He is saying that poetry has the power to heal us and to give us hope. This is a powerful message that speaks to the importance of poetry in our lives.

In conclusion, "The Poetry Famine" is a masterpiece by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It is a powerful commentary on the state of poetry during his time, and it still resonates with readers today. Longfellow is saying that poetry is not just a luxury, but a necessity. We need poetry to nourish our souls and to give us hope in difficult times. He is calling on poets to return to the true purpose of poetry and to write from the heart. This is a message that is as relevant today as it was when Longfellow wrote this poem over a century ago.

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