'Hiawatha 's Sailing' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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"Give me of your bark, O Birch-tree!
Of your yellow bark, O Birch-tree!
Growing by the rushing river,
Tall and stately in the valley!
I a light canoe will build me,
Build a swift Cheemaun for sailing,
That shall float on the river,
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,
Like a yellow water-lily!
"Lay aside your cloak, O Birch-tree!
Lay aside your white-skin wrapper,
For the Summer-time is coming,
And the sun is warm in heaven,
And you need no white-skin wrapper!"
Thus aloud cried Hiawatha
In the solitary forest,
By the rushing Taquamenaw,
When the birds were singing gayly,
In the Moon of Leaves were singing,
And the sun, from sleep awaking,
Started up and said, "Behold me!
Gheezis, the great Sun, behold me!"
And the tree with all its branches
Rustled in the breeze of morning,
Saying, with a sigh of patience,
"Take my cloak, O Hiawatha!"
With his knife the tree he girdled;
Just beneath its lowest branches,
Just above the roots, he cut it,
Till the sap came oozing outward;
Down the trunk, from top to bottom,
Sheer he cleft the bark asunder,
With a wooden wedge he raised it,
Stripped it from the trunk unbroken.
"Give me of your boughs, O Cedar!
Of your strong and pliant branches,
My canoe to make more steady,
Make more strong and firm beneath me!"
Through the summit of the Cedar
Went a sound, a cry of horror,
Went a murmur of resistance;
But it whispered, bending downward,
'Take my boughs, O Hiawatha!"
Down he hewed the boughs of cedar,
Shaped them straightway to a frame-work,
Like two bows he formed and shaped them,
Like two bended bows together.
"Give me of your roots, O Tamarack!
Of your fibrous roots, O Larch-tree!
My canoe to bind together,
So to bind the ends together
That the water may not enter,
That the river may not wet me!"
And the Larch, with all its fibres,
Shivered in the air of morning,
Touched his forehead with its tassels,
Slid, with one long sigh of sorrow.
"Take them all, O Hiawatha!"
From the earth he tore the fibres,
Tore the tough roots of the Larch-tree,
Closely sewed the hark together,
Bound it closely to the frame-work.
"Give me of your balm, O Fir-tree!
Of your balsam and your resin,
So to close the seams together
That the water may not enter,
That the river may not wet me!"
And the Fir-tree, tall and sombre,
Sobbed through all its robes of darkness,
Rattled like a shore with pebbles,
Answered wailing, answered weeping,
"Take my balm, O Hiawatha!"
And he took the tears of balsam,
Took the resin of the Fir-tree,
Smeared therewith each seam and fissure,
Made each crevice safe from water.
"Give me of your quills, O Hedgehog!
All your quills, O Kagh, the Hedgehog!
I will make a necklace of them,
Make a girdle for my beauty,
And two stars to deck her bosom!"
From a hollow tree the Hedgehog
With his sleepy eyes looked at him,
Shot his shining quills, like arrows,
Saying with a drowsy murmur,
Through the tangle of his whiskers,
"Take my quills, O Hiawatha!"
From the ground the quills he gathered,
All the little shining arrows,
Stained them red and blue and yellow,
With the juice of roots and berries;
Into his canoe he wrought them,
Round its waist a shining girdle,
Round its bows a gleaming necklace,
On its breast two stars resplendent.
Thus the Birch Canoe was builded
In the valley, by the river,
In the bosom of the forest;
And the forest's life was in it,
All its mystery and its magic,
All the lightness of the birch-tree,
All the toughness of the cedar,
All the larch's supple sinews;
And it floated on the river
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,
Like a yellow water-lily.
Paddles none had Hiawatha,
Paddles none he had or needed,
For his thoughts as paddles served him,
And his wishes served to guide him;
Swift or slow at will he glided,
Veered to right or left at pleasure.
Then he called aloud to Kwasind,
To his friend, the strong man, Kwasind,
Saying, "Help me clear this river
Of its sunken logs and sand-bars."
Straight into the river Kwasind
Plunged as if he were an otter,
Dived as if he were a beaver,
Stood up to his waist in water,
To his arm-pits in the river,
Swam and scouted in the river,
Tugged at sunken logs and branches,
With his hands he scooped the sand-bars,
With his feet the ooze and tangle.
And thus sailed my Hiawatha
Down the rushing Taquamenaw,
Sailed through all its bends and windings,
Sailed through all its deeps and shallows,
While his friend, the strong man, Kwasind,
Swam the deeps, the shallows waded.
Up and down the river went they,
In and out among its islands,
Cleared its bed of root and sand-bar,
Dragged the dead trees from its channel,
Made its passage safe and certain,
Made a pathway for the people,
From its springs among the mountains,
To the waters of Pauwating,
To the bay of Taquamenaw.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Hiawatha's Sailing: A Journey through Longfellow's Poetry

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Hiawatha's Sailing is a captivating piece of literature that takes the reader on a journey through the vast and beautiful waters of the Great Lakes. It is a poem that tells a story of adventure, exploration, and the beauty of nature. The poem uses vivid imagery, beautiful metaphors, and a rhythmic flow to capture the essence of sailing and the wonder of the natural world. Let's begin our journey through Longfellow's poetry and explore the many literary devices and themes that make Hiawatha's Sailing a classic piece of literature.

The Setting: A Beautiful World of Nature

The poem begins with a description of the setting, a beautiful world of nature that is full of wonder and adventure. The clear blue waters of the Great Lakes are described as "Afar off and silent/ Lingered the sky away to the westward/ And over the water/ White the swans at play". This opening image sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it creates a sense of calm and tranquility that is perfect for a sailing adventure.

The beauty of the natural world is further emphasized in the description of the shore, which is full of "Forests of pine and cedar". Longfellow uses imagery to transport the reader to this enchanted world, where the beauty of the natural world is celebrated and revered.

The Journey: A Metaphor for Life

As Hiawatha sets sail, the poem takes on a deeper meaning, as the journey becomes a metaphor for life. The waves of the water are described as "Breaking against the bows/ Dashing against the side of the canoe/ And the paddles dipped in rhythmical motion/ As the brave canoe through the waves/ Went its way". This metaphorical description of the journey is a powerful reminder that life is full of challenges and obstacles, but with perseverance and determination, we can overcome them.

The rhythmical motion of the paddles is also a metaphor for the passage of time, as we move forward in life, always striving towards our goals. The waves that break against the canoe represent the challenges that we face along the way, but we must continue to paddle and move forward, no matter how difficult the journey may be.

The Theme of Unity

One of the central themes of Hiawatha's Sailing is unity. The poem celebrates the power of working together towards a common goal. Hiawatha and his companions work together to navigate the waters, with "Strong of arm and firm of muscle" they "Paddled onward without ceasing". This image of unity and cooperation is a powerful message that is still relevant today.

The theme of unity is further emphasized in the description of the wildlife that Hiawatha and his companions encounter along the way. The poem celebrates the diversity of the natural world, with references to "The sturgeon, Nahma, leaped and glistened", "The bluebird, the Owaissa", and "The robin, the Opechee". This celebration of diversity is a powerful reminder that we are all connected, and that our differences are what make us unique and special.

The Beauty of Poetry

One of the most striking aspects of Hiawatha's Sailing is the beauty of the language and the poetry itself. Longfellow's use of metaphor, imagery, and rhythm creates a sensory experience that transports the reader to the world of the poem. The rhythmical motion of the paddles and the waves is echoed in the rhythm of the poetry, creating a musical quality that is both captivating and enchanting.

The poem also makes use of repetition, with the repeated use of the phrase "By the shores of Gitche Gumee" creating a sense of familiarity and comfort for the reader. This repetition is also a powerful reminder of the importance of tradition and storytelling in preserving our cultural heritage.


In conclusion, Hiawatha's Sailing is a classic piece of literature that celebrates the beauty of nature, the power of unity, and the journey of life itself. Longfellow's use of metaphor, imagery, and rhythm creates a sensory experience that is both captivating and enchanting. The poem is a powerful reminder of the importance of working together towards a common goal, celebrating diversity, and persevering through the challenges of life. It is a timeless piece of literature that continues to inspire and captivate readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has the power to transport us to different times and places, to evoke emotions and memories, and to inspire us to see the world in new ways. One such poem that has stood the test of time is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Hiawatha's Sailing." This classic poem, first published in 1855, tells the story of Hiawatha, a Native American hero, as he sets sail on a journey of discovery and adventure. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and symbolism in "Hiawatha's Sailing," and how they contribute to the poem's enduring appeal.

The poem begins with Hiawatha preparing to set sail on his birch canoe, accompanied by his friend, the wise old Nokomis. As they push off from the shore, the wind fills their sails, and they glide out onto the open water. Longfellow's vivid descriptions of the natural world create a sense of wonder and awe, as Hiawatha and Nokomis marvel at the beauty of the sky, the water, and the creatures that inhabit them.

One of the most striking features of "Hiawatha's Sailing" is its use of imagery and symbolism. Longfellow employs a range of poetic devices to create a rich and evocative landscape, from the "purple mists of evening" to the "white fog creeping slowly" over the water. These images not only paint a picture of the physical world but also convey deeper meanings and emotions.

For example, the image of the "white fog" can be seen as a metaphor for the unknown and the mysterious. As Hiawatha and Nokomis sail deeper into the fog, they are venturing into uncharted territory, both literally and metaphorically. This sense of exploration and discovery is a central theme of the poem, as Hiawatha seeks to learn more about the world around him and his place in it.

Another important symbol in the poem is the birch canoe itself. This traditional Native American vessel represents not only Hiawatha's connection to his cultural heritage but also his sense of independence and self-reliance. As he navigates the waters, Hiawatha is in control of his own destiny, free to chart his own course and make his own decisions.

Yet, despite his independence, Hiawatha is not alone on his journey. Nokomis, the wise old woman who accompanies him, serves as a mentor and guide, offering him advice and wisdom along the way. This relationship between the young hero and the wise elder is a common theme in Native American folklore, and it speaks to the importance of intergenerational knowledge and respect.

As Hiawatha and Nokomis sail further into the unknown, they encounter a range of natural wonders, from the "great sea-serpent" to the "giant mountains" that rise up in the distance. These encounters serve to remind us of the vastness and diversity of the natural world, and the importance of respecting and protecting it.

At the same time, the poem also explores the relationship between humans and nature, and the ways in which we are connected to the world around us. Hiawatha and Nokomis are not simply observers of nature but active participants in it, as they navigate the waters and interact with the creatures they encounter. This sense of connection and interdependence is a central theme of the poem, and it speaks to the importance of living in harmony with the natural world.

As the poem draws to a close, Hiawatha and Nokomis return to shore, their journey of discovery complete. Yet, the lessons they have learned and the experiences they have had will stay with them forever, shaping their understanding of themselves and the world around them.

In conclusion, "Hiawatha's Sailing" is a timeless poem that speaks to the power of nature, the importance of intergenerational knowledge, and the value of exploration and discovery. Through its vivid imagery, rich symbolism, and evocative language, the poem transports us to a world of wonder and awe, reminding us of the beauty and complexity of the natural world and our place within it. As we read and reflect on this classic work of poetry, we are inspired to see the world in new ways, to appreciate the interconnectedness of all things, and to strive for a more harmonious and sustainable future.

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