'Hiawatha 's Lamentation' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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In those days the Evil Spirits,
All the Manitos of mischief,
Fearing Hiawatha's wisdom,
And his love for Chibiabos,
Jealous of their faithful friendship,
And their noble words and actions,
Made at length a league against them,
To molest them and destroy them.
Hiawatha, wise and wary,
Often said to Chibiabos,
"O my brother! do not leave me,
Lest the Evil Spirits harm you!"
Chibiabos, young and heedless,
Laughing shook his coal-black tresses,
Answered ever sweet and childlike,
"Do not fear for me, O brother!
Harm and evil come not near me!"
Once when Peboan, the Winter,
Roofed with ice the Big-Sea-Water,
When the snow-flakes, whirling downward,
Hissed among the withered oak-leaves,
Changed the pine-trees into wigwams,
Covered all the earth with silence,
Armed with arrows, shod with snow-shoes,
Heeding not his brother's warning,
Fearing not the Evil Spirits,
Forth to hunt the deer with antlers
All alone went Chibiabos.
Right across the Big-Sea-Water
Sprang with speed the deer before him.
With the wind and snow he followed,
O'er the treacherous ice he followed,
Wild with all the fierce commotion
And the rapture of the hunting.
But beneath, the Evil Spirits
Lay in ambush, waiting for him,
Broke the treacherous ice beneath him,
Dragged him downward to the bottom,
Buried in the sand his body.
Unktahee, the god of water,
He the god of the Dacotahs,
Drowned him in the deep abysses
Of the lake of Gitche Gumee.
From the headlands Hiawatha
Sent forth such a wail of anguish,
Such a fearful lamentation,
That the bison paused to listen,
And the wolves howled from the prairies,
And the thunder in the distance
Starting answered "Baim-wawa!"
Then his face with black he painted,
With his robe his head he covered,
In his wigwam sat lamenting,
Seven long weeks he sat lamenting,
Uttering still this moan of sorrow:
"He is dead, the sweet musician!
He the sweetest of all singers!
He has gone from us forever,
He has moved a little nearer
To the Master of all music,
To the Master of all singing!
O my brother, Chibiabos!"
And the melancholy fir-trees
Waved their dark green fans above him,
Waved their purple cones above him,
Sighing with him to console him,
Mingling with his lamentation
Their complaining, their lamenting.
Came the Spring, and all the forest
Looked in vain for Chibiabos;
Sighed the rivulet, Sebowisha,
Sighed the rushes in the meadow.
From the tree-tops sang the bluebird,
Sang the bluebird, the Owaissa,
"Chibiabos! Chibiabos!
He is dead, the sweet musician!"
From the wigwam sang the robin,
Sang the robin, the Opechee,
"Chibiabos! Chibiabos!
He is dead, the sweetest singer!"
And at night through all the forest
Went the whippoorwill complaining,
Wailing went the Wawonaissa,
"Chibiabos! Chibiabos!
He is dead, the sweet musician!
He the sweetest of all singers!"
Then the Medicine-men, the Medas,
The magicians, the Wabenos,
And the Jossakeeds, the Prophets,
Came to visit Hiawatha;
Built a Sacred Lodge beside him,
To appease him, to console him,
Walked in silent, grave procession,
Bearing each a pouch of healing,
Skin of beaver, lynx, or otter,
Filled with magic roots and simples,
Filled with very potent medicines.
When he heard their steps approaching~,
Hiawatha ceased lamenting,
Called no more on Chibiabos;
Naught he questioned, naught he answered,
But his mournful head uncovered,
From his face the mourning colors
Washed he slowly and in silence,
Slowly and in silence followed
Onward to the Sacred Wigwam.
There a magic drink they gave him,
Made of Nahma-wusk, the spearmint,
And Wabeno-wusk, the yarrow,
Roots of power, and herbs of healing;
Beat their drums, and shook their rattles;
Chanted singly and in chorus,
Mystic songs like these, they chanted.
"I myself, myself! behold me!
`T Is the great Gray Eagle talking;
Come, ye white crows, come and hear him!
The loud-speaking thunder helps me;
All the unseen spirits help me;
I can hear their voices calling,
All around the sky I hear them!
I can blow you strong, my brother,
I can heal you, Hiawatha!"
"Hi-au-ha!" replied the chorus,
"Wayha-way!" the mystic chorus.
Friends of mine are all the serpents!
Hear me shake my skin of hen-hawk!
Mahng, the white loon, I can kill him;
I can shoot your heart and kill it!
I can blow you strong, my brother,
I can heal you, Hiawatha !"
"Hi-au-ha!" replied the chorus,
"Wayhaway!" the mystic chorus.
"I myself, myself! the prophet!
When I speak the wigwam trembles,
Shakes the Sacred Lodge with terror,
Hands unseen begin to shake it!
When I walk, the sky I tread on
Bends and makes a noise beneath me!
I can blow you strong, my brother!
Rise and speak, O Hiawatha!"
"Hi-au-ha!" replied the chorus,
"Way-ha-way!" the mystic chorus.
Then they shook their medicine-pouches
O'er the head of Hiawatha,
Danced their medicine-dance around him;
And upstarting wild and haggard,
Like a man from dreams awakened,
He was healed of all his madness.
As the clouds are swept from heaven,
Straightway from his brain departed
All his moody melancholy;
As the ice is swept from rivers,
Straightway from his heart departed
All his sorrow and affliction.
Then they summoned Chibiabos
From his grave beneath the waters,
From the sands of Gitche Gumee
Summoned Hiawatha's brother.
And so mighty was the magic
Of that cry and invocation,
That he heard it as he lay there
Underneath the Big-Sea-Water;
From the sand he rose and listened,
Heard the music and the singing,
Came, obedient to the summons,
To the doorway of the wigwam,
But to enter they forbade him.
Through a chink a coal they gave him,
Through the door a burning fire-brand;
Ruler in the Land of Spirits,
Ruler o'er the dead, they made him,
Telling him a fire to kindle
For all those that died thereafter,
Camp-fires for their night encampments
On their solitary journey
To the kingdom of Ponemah,
To the land of the Hereafter.
From the village of his childhood,
From the homes of those who knew him,
Passing silent through the forest,
Like a smoke-wreath wafted sideways,
Slowly vanished Chibiabos!
Where he passed, the branches moved not,
Where he trod, the grasses bent not,
And the fallen leaves of last year
Made no sound beneath his footstep.
Four whole days he journeyed onward
Down the pathway of the dead men;
On the dead-man's strawberry feasted,
Crossed the melancholy river,
On the swinging log he crossed it,
Came unto the Lake of Silver,
In the Stone Canoe was carried
To the Islands of the Blessed,
To the land of ghosts and shadows.
On that journey, moving slowly,
Many weary spirits saw he,
Panting under heavy burdens,
Laden with war-clubs, bows and arrows,
Robes of fur, and pots and kettles,
And with food that friends had given
For that solitary journey.
"Ay! why do the living," said they,
"Lay such heavy burdens on us!
Better were it to go naked,
Better were it to go fasting,
Than to bear such heavy burdens
On our long and weary journey!"
Forth then issued Hiawatha,
Wandered eastward, wandered westward,
Teaching men the use of simples
And the antidotes for poisons,
And the cure of all diseases.
Thus was first made known to mortals
All the mystery of Medamin,
All the sacred art of healing.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Hiawatha's Lamentation: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Hiawatha's Lamentation" is a haunting poem that captures the deep sorrow and mourning of the Native American people. Written in 1855, during a time when the United States government was expanding westward and pushing Native Americans off their land, the poem serves as a powerful reminder of the atrocities committed against these people.


The poem is structured as a lamentation, a song of mourning for a lost loved one. Hiawatha, the poem's protagonist, sings a mournful song for his people, who have been pushed out of their ancestral lands and forced to live on a reservation.

The poem is divided into two parts. In the first part, Hiawatha laments the loss of his people's land and the destruction of their way of life. In the second part, he mourns the loss of his wife, Minnehaha, who died during the harsh winter.



The poem is written in free verse, with no set rhyme or meter. This gives the poem a natural, conversational feel, as if Hiawatha is speaking directly to the reader. The lack of a strict form also allows for more flexibility in the language, which Longfellow uses to great effect.


The language of the poem is simple and direct, but also deeply emotional. Longfellow uses repetition, alliteration, and other poetic devices to create a sense of rhythm and musicality to the text.

For example, in the first stanza, Longfellow repeats the phrase "strong and fair" to describe the land that has been taken from the Native Americans:

Strong and fair! I hear thee calling,
My lost land! my own fair region,
From thy distant shore, I hear thee
Calling, calling me.

The repetition of "strong and fair" emphasizes the beauty and strength of the land that has been taken from Hiawatha's people, and creates a sense of longing for what has been lost.

Longfellow also uses alliteration to create a musical quality to the poem. For example, in the second stanza, he writes:

Mournful is the voice of evening wind among the boughs of neighbouring trees.

The repetition of the "b" and "t" sounds creates a soothing, melancholic effect.


The poem deals with several themes, including loss, grief, and the destruction of a way of life.

The loss of land and the destruction of the Native American way of life is a central theme of the poem. Hiawatha describes the land as "strong and fair," but now it is lost forever. The poem also portrays the Native American people as a once-proud nation that has been reduced to living on a reservation, their culture and traditions erased.

The theme of grief is also prominent in the poem. Hiawatha mourns not only the loss of his land, but also the death of his wife. His sorrow is palpable:

Dead he lay among his people,
None to mourn him, none to weep him,
None to make his grave among them.

The poem also explores the idea of memory and remembrance. Hiawatha sings his lamentation so that his people will remember what has been taken from them, and what they have lost. He wants his people to remember their past, so that they can work towards a better future.

Historical Context

The poem was written during a time when the United States government was expanding westward and pushing Native Americans off their land. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced thousands of Native Americans to leave their ancestral lands and move to reservations in Oklahoma. This forced relocation led to the deaths of thousands of Native Americans, who were forced to travel long distances in harsh conditions.

Longfellow was well aware of the injustices committed against Native Americans, and his poem reflects his sympathy for their plight. He portrays Hiawatha as a noble and proud figure, who is deeply saddened by the loss of his people's way of life.

Cultural Significance

"Hiawatha's Lamentation" is a powerful poem that has resonated with readers for over a century. It is a testament to the resilience and strength of the Native American people, who have survived centuries of persecution and oppression.

The poem has also had a significant impact on popular culture. The character of Hiawatha has appeared in numerous books, films, and television shows, and the poem's themes of loss and grief have inspired countless works of art.


"Hiawatha's Lamentation" is a deeply moving poem that captures the sorrow and grief of the Native American people. Longfellow's use of language and poetic devices creates a sense of musicality and rhythm that adds to the poem's emotional power.

The poem is a reminder of the injustices committed against Native Americans, and serves as a powerful testament to their resilience and strength. It is a work of art that has stood the test of time, and will continue to inspire and move readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Hiawatha's Lamentation" is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a powerful and moving piece that tells the story of Hiawatha, a Native American chief who is mourning the loss of his wife. The poem is filled with vivid imagery, powerful metaphors, and a deep sense of emotion that captures the reader's attention from the very beginning.

The poem begins with Hiawatha standing alone in the forest, mourning the loss of his wife. He is filled with grief and despair, and he cries out to the spirits of the forest, asking them to help him find peace. The imagery in this opening stanza is particularly powerful, as Longfellow describes the forest as a place of darkness and sorrow, where the trees are bare and the wind is cold.

As the poem progresses, Hiawatha's grief becomes more intense. He begins to question the purpose of life and wonders why he must suffer so much. He asks the spirits of the forest if they can hear his cries, and if they can help him find a way to ease his pain. The use of rhetorical questions in this section of the poem is particularly effective, as it highlights the depth of Hiawatha's despair and his sense of hopelessness.

Despite his grief, Hiawatha remains determined to find a way to move forward. He begins to reflect on the memories he shared with his wife, and he finds comfort in the knowledge that she is now at peace. He realizes that he must continue to live his life, even though it will never be the same without her.

The final stanza of the poem is particularly powerful, as Hiawatha comes to a realization about the nature of life and death. He understands that death is a natural part of the cycle of life, and that all living things must eventually return to the earth. He finds comfort in the knowledge that his wife is now a part of the natural world, and that she will continue to live on in the trees, the flowers, and the animals that surround him.

Overall, "Hiawatha's Lamentation" is a powerful and moving poem that captures the essence of grief and loss. Longfellow's use of vivid imagery, powerful metaphors, and a deep sense of emotion make this poem a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today. Whether you are mourning the loss of a loved one or simply seeking comfort in the face of life's challenges, this poem is sure to touch your heart and inspire you to find the strength to move forward.

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