'Picture -Writing' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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In those days said Hiawatha,
"Lo! how all things fade and perish!
From the memory of the old men
Pass away the great traditions,
The achievements of the warriors,
The adventures of the hunters,
All the wisdom of the Medas,
All the craft of the Wabenos,
All the marvellous dreams and visions
Of the Jossakeeds, the Prophets!
"Great men die and are forgotten,
Wise men speak; their words of wisdom
Perish in the ears that hear them,
Do not reach the generations
That, as yet unborn, are waiting
In the great, mysterious darkness
Of the speechless days that shall be!
"On the grave-posts of our fathers
Are no signs, no figures painted;
Who are in those graves we know not,
Only know they are our fathers.
Of what kith they are and kindred,
From what old, ancestral Totem,
Be it Eagle, Bear, or Beaver,
They descended, this we know not,
Only know they are our fathers.
"Face to face we speak together,
But we cannot speak when absent,
Cannot send our voices from us
To the friends that dwell afar off;
Cannot send a secret message,
But the bearer learns our secret,
May pervert it, may betray it,
May reveal it unto others."
Thus said Hiawatha, walking
In the solitary forest,
Pondering, musing in the forest,
On the welfare of his people.
From his pouch he took his colors,
Took his paints of different colors,
On the smooth bark of a birch-tree
Painted many shapes and figures,
Wonderful and mystic figures,
And each figure had a meaning,
Each some word or thought suggested.
Gitche Manito the Mighty,
He, the Master of Life, was painted
As an egg, with points projecting
To the four winds of the heavens.
Everywhere is the Great Spirit,
Was the meaning of this symbol.
Gitche Manito the Mighty,
He the dreadful Spirit of Evil,
As a serpent was depicted,
As Kenabeek, the great serpent.
Very crafty, very cunning,
Is the creeping Spirit of Evil,
Was the meaning of this symbol.
Life and Death he drew as circles,
Life was white, but Death was darkened;
Sun and moon and stars he painted,
Man and beast, and fish and reptile,
Forests, mountains, lakes, and rivers.
For the earth he drew a straight line,
For the sky a bow above it;
White the space between for daytime,
Filled with little stars for night-time;
On the left a point for sunrise,
On the right a point for sunset,
On the top a point for noontide,
And for rain and cloudy weather
Waving lines descending from it.

Footprints pointing towards a wigwam
Were a sign of invitation,
Were a sign of guests assembling;
Bloody hands with palms uplifted
Were a symbol of destruction,
Were a hostile sign and symbol.
All these things did Hiawatha
Show unto his wondering people,
And interpreted their meaning,
And he said: "Behold, your grave-posts
Have no mark, no sign, nor symbol,
Go and paint them all with figures;
Each one with its household symbol,
With its own ancestral Totem;
So that those who follow after
May distinguish them and know them."
And they painted on the grave-posts
On the graves yet unforgotten,
Each his own ancestral Totem,
Each the symbol of his household;
Figures of the Bear and Reindeer,
Of the Turtle, Crane, and Beaver,
Each inverted as a token
That the owner was departed,
That the chief who bore the symbol
Lay beneath in dust and ashes.
And the Jossakeeds, the Prophets,
The Wabenos, the Magicians,
And the Medicine-men, the Medas,
Painted upon bark and deer-skin
Figures for the songs they chanted,
For each song a separate symbol,
Figures mystical and awful,
Figures strange and brightly colored;
And each figure had its meaning,
Each some magic song suggested.
The Great Spirit, the Creator,
Flashing light through all the heaven;
The Great Serpent, the Kenabeek,
With his bloody crest erected,
Creeping, looking into heaven;
In the sky the sun, that listens,
And the moon eclipsed and dying;
Owl and eagle, crane and hen-hawk,
And the cormorant, bird of magic;
Headless men, that walk the heavens,
Bodies lying pierced with arrows,
Bloody hands of death uplifted,
Flags on graves, and great war-captains
Grasping both the earth and heaven!
Such as these the shapes they painted
On the birch-bark and the deer-skin;
Songs of war and songs of hunting,
Songs of medicine and of magic,
All were written in these figures,
For each figure had its meaning,
Each its separate song recorded.
Nor forgotten was the Love-Song,
The most subtle of all medicines,
The most potent spell of magic,
Dangerous more than war or hunting!
Thus the Love-Song was recorded,
Symbol and interpretation.
First a human figure standing,
Painted in the brightest scarlet;
`T Is the lover, the musician,
And the meaning is, "My painting
Makes me powerful over others."
Then the figure seated, singing,
Playing on a drum of magic,
And the interpretation, "Listen!
`T Is my voice you hear, my singing!"
Then the same red figure seated
In the shelter of a wigwam,
And the meaning of the symbol,
"I will come and sit beside you
In the mystery of my passion!"
Then two figures, man and woman,
Standing hand in hand together
With their hands so clasped together
That they seemed in one united,
And the words thus represented
Are, "I see your heart within you,
And your cheeks are red with blushes!"
Next the maiden on an island,
In the centre of an Island;
And the song this shape suggested
Was, "Though you were at a distance,
Were upon some far-off island,
Such the spell I cast upon you,
Such the magic power of passion,
I could straightway draw you to me!"
Then the figure of the maiden
Sleeping, and the lover near her,
Whispering to her in her slumbers,
Saying, "Though you were far from me
In the land of Sleep and Silence,
Still the voice of love would reach you!"
And the last of all the figures
Was a heart within a circle,
Drawn within a magic circle;
And the image had this meaning:
"Naked lies your heart before me,
To your naked heart I whisper!"
Thus it was that Hiawatha,
In his wisdom, taught the people
All the mysteries of painting,
All the art of Picture-Writing,
On the smooth bark of the birch-tree,
On the white skin of the reindeer,
On the grave-posts of the village.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, Picture-Writing by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wow, poetry is an art form that can be expressed in various ways. The use of imagery and symbolism is crucial to the success of any poem. One poem that demonstrates these techniques well is "Poetry, Picture-Writing" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

This poem is a tribute to the Native American people who used picture-writing to communicate. Longfellow portrays the beauty and complexity of their culture through his words. He starts by describing how the pictures on the birch bark communicate stories that are as old as the forests they come from. Longfellow sets the scene well, making the reader feel like they are in the middle of the woods, surrounded by the people who created these stories.

Longfellow then goes on to describe how the picture-writing is passed down from generation to generation. He highlights the importance of preserving traditions and the knowledge that comes with them. The symbolism here is powerful, reminding us of the importance of our own cultures and how we should preserve them for future generations.

But the poem is not just about the past. Longfellow brings the poem into the present, describing how the picture-writing is sometimes used to communicate with those who do not speak the same language. This is especially poignant in today's world, where we are constantly interacting with people from different cultures.

Longfellow's use of imagery is stunning, allowing readers to see the birch bark, the intricate designs, and the stories that are being told. He compares the picture-writing to the "painting of the soul," highlighting the emotional depth and complexity of these stories.

One of the most powerful aspects of this poem is Longfellow's respect for the Native American people. He recognizes their culture and traditions, avoiding the common stereotype of the "savage" Native American. Instead, he portrays them as intelligent and thoughtful people with a rich history.

The poem also has a strong message about the power of language and communication. Even when we do not speak the same language, we can still connect with each other through art and symbolism. This is an important lesson for all of us, reminding us of the importance of empathy and understanding.

In conclusion, "Poetry, Picture-Writing" is a beautiful tribute to the Native American people and their culture. Longfellow's use of imagery and symbolism is powerful, taking the reader on a journey through time and culture. The poem reminds us of the importance of preserving traditions and communicating with each other, even when we do not speak the same language. It's a poem that should be read and admired by all lovers of poetry and art.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Picture-Writing: A Masterpiece by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century, is known for his romantic and lyrical poetry. His works have been widely read and admired for their beauty, simplicity, and depth of meaning. Among his many famous poems, Poetry Picture-Writing stands out as a masterpiece that captures the essence of poetry and its power to evoke emotions and inspire imagination.

Poetry Picture-Writing is a short poem that consists of only eight lines, yet it is a perfect example of Longfellow's poetic genius. The poem begins with the lines, "The poet writes / He pictures well / He paints in words / Whose magic spell." These lines set the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a celebration of the poet's ability to create vivid images and convey deep emotions through his words.

The second stanza of the poem continues this theme, with Longfellow describing the poet's ability to "paint the sky / With sunset hues / And make the earth / A paradise of views." Here, Longfellow is emphasizing the power of poetry to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, to make the mundane seem magical, and to transport the reader to a world of beauty and wonder.

The third stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as Longfellow describes the poet's ability to "paint the heart / With colors bright / And make it glow / With love and light." Here, Longfellow is highlighting the transformative power of poetry to touch the deepest emotions of the human heart, to inspire love, hope, and joy, and to heal the wounds of the soul.

The final stanza of the poem brings the theme full circle, as Longfellow reminds us that the poet's words are not just pictures, but also music. He writes, "His words are music / Soft and low / That soothe the heart / And heal its woe." Here, Longfellow is emphasizing the musicality of poetry, its ability to create a rhythm and melody that can touch the soul and bring comfort to the troubled heart.

Overall, Poetry Picture-Writing is a masterful poem that captures the essence of poetry and its power to evoke emotions, inspire imagination, and heal the soul. Longfellow's use of vivid imagery, musical language, and simple yet profound themes make this poem a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today.

One of the most striking features of Poetry Picture-Writing is its use of imagery. Longfellow's descriptions of the poet's ability to "paint the sky / With sunset hues" and "make the earth / A paradise of views" are particularly powerful, as they evoke a sense of wonder and awe at the beauty of the natural world. Similarly, his description of the poet's ability to "paint the heart / With colors bright" and "make it glow / With love and light" is a powerful metaphor for the transformative power of poetry to touch the deepest emotions of the human heart.

Another notable feature of Poetry Picture-Writing is its musicality. Longfellow's use of rhythm and rhyme creates a sense of flow and harmony that is both soothing and uplifting. The repetition of the phrase "He pictures well / He paints in words / Whose magic spell" creates a sense of unity and coherence that ties the poem together and emphasizes its central theme.

Finally, the simplicity and clarity of Longfellow's language make Poetry Picture-Writing accessible to readers of all ages and backgrounds. The poem's short length and straightforward language make it easy to understand and appreciate, while its profound themes and powerful imagery make it a work of great depth and meaning.

In conclusion, Poetry Picture-Writing is a masterpiece of poetry that captures the essence of the poet's art. Longfellow's use of vivid imagery, musical language, and simple yet profound themes make this poem a timeless classic that continues to inspire and uplift readers today. Whether you are a lover of poetry or simply appreciate the beauty of language, Poetry Picture-Writing is a must-read that will leave you feeling inspired and uplifted.

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