'Hiawatha 's Fishing' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Forth upon the Gitche Gumee,
On the shining Big-Sea-Water,
With his fishing-line of cedar,
Of the twisted bark of cedar,
Forth to catch the sturgeon Nahma,
Mishe-Nahma, King of Fishes,
In his birch canoe exulting
All alone went Hiawatha.
Through the clear, transparent water
He could see the fishes swimming
Far down in the depths below him;
See the yellow perch, the Sahwa,
Like a sunbeam in the water,
See the Shawgashee, the craw-fish,
Like a spider on the bottom,
On the white and sandy bottom.
At the stern sat Hiawatha,
With his fishing-line of cedar;
In his plumes the breeze of morning
Played as in the hemlock branches;
On the bows, with tail erected,
Sat the squirrel, Adjidaumo;
In his fur the breeze of morning
Played as in the prairie grasses.
On the white sand of the bottom
Lay the monster Mishe-Nahma,
Lay the sturgeon, King of Fishes;
Through his gills he breathed the water,
With his fins he fanned and winnowed,
With his tail he swept the sand-floor.
There he lay in all his armor;
On each side a shield to guard him,
Plates of bone upon his forehead,
Down his sides and back and shoulders
Plates of bone with spines projecting
Painted was he with his war-paints,
Stripes of yellow, red, and azure,
Spots of brown and spots of sable;
And he lay there on the bottom,
Fanning with his fins of purple,
As above him Hiawatha
In his birch canoe came sailing,
With his fishing-line of cedar.
"Take my bait," cried Hiawatha,
Dawn into the depths beneath him,
"Take my bait, O Sturgeon, Nahma!
Come up from below the water,
Let us see which is the stronger!"
And he dropped his line of cedar
Through the clear, transparent water,
Waited vainly for an answer,
Long sat waiting for an answer,
And repeating loud and louder,
"Take my bait, O King of Fishes!"
Quiet lay the sturgeon, Nahma,
Fanning slowly in the water,
Looking up at Hiawatha,
Listening to his call and clamor,
His unnecessary tumult,
Till he wearied of the shouting;
And he said to the Kenozha,
To the pike, the Maskenozha,
"Take the bait of this rude fellow,
Break the line of Hiawatha!"
In his fingers Hiawatha
Felt the loose line jerk and tighten,
As he drew it in, it tugged so
That the birch canoe stood endwise,
Like a birch log in the water,
With the squirrel, Adjidaumo,
Perched and frisking on the summit.
Full of scorn was Hiawatha
When he saw the fish rise upward,
Saw the pike, the Maskenozha,
Coming nearer, nearer to him,
And he shouted through the water,
"Esa! esa! shame upon you!
You are but the pike, Kenozha,
You are not the fish I wanted,
You are not the King of Fishes!"
Reeling downward to the bottom
Sank the pike in great confusion,
And the mighty sturgeon, Nahma,
Said to Ugudwash, the sun-fish,
To the bream, with scales of crimson,
"Take the bait of this great boaster,
Break the line of Hiawatha!"
Slowly upward, wavering, gleaming,
Rose the Ugudwash, the sun-fish,
Seized the line of Hiawatha,
Swung with all his weight upon it,
Made a whirlpool in the water,
Whirled the birch canoe in circles,
Round and round in gurgling eddies,
Till the circles in the water
Reached the far-off sandy beaches,
Till the water-flags and rushes
Nodded on the distant margins.
But when Hiawatha saw him
Slowly rising through the water,
Lifting up his disk refulgent,
Loud he shouted in derision,
"Esa! esa! shame upon you!
You are Ugudwash, the sun-fish,
You are not the fish I wanted,
You are not the King of Fishes!"
Slowly downward, wavering, gleaming,
Sank the Ugudwash, the sun-fish,
And again the sturgeon, Nahma,
Heard the shout of Hiawatha,
Heard his challenge of defiance,
The unnecessary tumult,
Ringing far across the water.
From the white sand of the bottom
Up he rose with angry gesture,
Quivering in each nerve and fibre,
Clashing all his plates of armor,
Gleaming bright with all his war-paint;
In his wrath he darted upward,
Flashing leaped into the sunshine,
Opened his great jaws, and swallowed
Both canoe and Hiawatha.
Down into that darksome cavern
Plunged the headlong Hiawatha,
As a log on some black river
Shoots and plunges down the rapids,
Found himself in utter darkness,
Groped about in helpless wonder,
Till he felt a great heart beating,
Throbbing in that utter darkness.
And he smote it in his anger,
With his fist, the heart of Nahma,
Felt the mighty King of Fishes
Shudder through each nerve and fibre,
Heard the water gurgle round him
As he leaped and staggered through it,
Sick at heart, and faint and weary.
Crosswise then did Hiawatha
Drag his birch-canoe for safety,
Lest from out the jaws of Nahma,
In the turmoil and confusion,
Forth he might be hurled and perish.
And the squirrel, Adjidaumo,
Frisked and chatted very gayly,
Toiled and tugged with Hiawatha
Till the labor was completed.
Then said Hiawatha to him,
"O my little friend, the squirrel,
Bravely have you toiled to help me;
Take the thanks of Hiawatha,
And the name which now he gives you;
For hereafter and forever
Boys shall call you Adjidaumo,
Tail-in-air the boys shall call you!"
And again the sturgeon, Nahma,
Gasped and quivered in the water,
Then was still, and drifted landward
Till he grated on the pebbles,
Till the listening Hiawatha
Heard him grate upon the margin,
Felt him strand upon the pebbles,
Knew that Nahma, King of Fishes,
Lay there dead upon the margin.
Then he heard a clang and flapping,
As of many wings assembling,
Heard a screaming and confusion,
As of birds of prey contending,
Saw a gleam of light above him,
Shining through the ribs of Nahma,
Saw the glittering eyes of sea-gulls,
Of Kayoshk, the sea-gulls, peering,
Gazing at him through the opening,
Heard them saying to each other,
"'T is our brother, Hiawatha!"
And he shouted from below them,
Cried exulting from the caverns:
"O ye sea-gulls! O my brothers!
I have slain the sturgeon, Nahma;
Make the rifts a little larger,
With your claws the openings widen,
Set me free from this dark prison,
And henceforward and forever
Men shall speak of your achievements,
Calling you Kayoshk, the sea-gulls,
Yes, Kayoshk, the Noble Scratchers!"
And the wild and clamorous sea-gulls
Toiled with beak and claws together,
Made the rifts and openings wider
In the mighty ribs of Nahma,
And from peril and from prison,
From the body of the sturgeon,
From the peril of the water,
They released my Hiawatha.
He was standing near his wigwam,
On the margin of the water,
And he called to old Nokomis,
Called and beckoned to Nokomis,
Pointed to the sturgeon, Nahma,
Lying lifeless on the pebbles,
With the sea-gulls feeding on him.
"I have slain the Mishe-Nahma,
Slain the King of Fishes!" said he'
"Look! the sea-gulls feed upon him,
Yes, my friends Kayoshk, the sea-gulls;
Drive them not away, Nokomis,
They have saved me from great peril
In the body of the sturgeon,
Wait until their meal is ended,
Till their craws are full with feasting,
Till they homeward fly, at sunset,
To their nests among the marshes;
Then bring all your pots and kettles,
And make oil for us in Winter."
And she waited till the sun set,
Till the pallid moon, the Night-sun,
Rose above the tranquil water,
Till Kayoshk, the sated sea-gulls,
From their banquet rose with clamor,
And across the fiery sunset
Winged their way to far-off islands,
To their nests among the rushes.
To his sleep went Hiawatha,
And Nokomis to her labor,
Toiling patient in the moonlight,
Till the sun and moon changed places,
Till the sky was red with sunrise,
And Kayoshk, the hungry sea-gulls,
Came back from the reedy islands,
Clamorous for their morning banquet.
Three whole days and nights alternate
Old Nokomis and the sea-gulls
Stripped the oily flesh of Nahma,
Till the waves washed through the rib-bones,
Till the sea-gulls came no longer,
And upon the sands lay nothing
But the skeleton of Nahma.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Hiawatha's Fishing: A Masterpiece in Longfellow's Poetry

If you're a fan of American poetry, chances are you've come across Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's name at some point. The celebrated poet and educator is known for his epic poems, folk tales, and lyrical works that touch on themes of love, loss, and identity. Perhaps one of his most famous works is "Hiawatha's Fishing," a beautiful and evocative poem that captures the spiritual connection between humans and nature.

The Setting: A Serene Lake

The poem begins with a vivid description of the setting: a serene lake surrounded by lush green forests. The imagery is striking and immediately takes the reader to the heart of the scene:

At the door, on summer evenings, Sat the little Hiawatha; Heard the whispering of the pine-trees, Heard the lapping of the waters, Sounds of music, words of wonder; 'Minne-wawa!' said the pine-trees, 'Mudway-aushka!' said the water.

Here, we see Hiawatha sitting at his door, listening to the sounds of nature. The whispering of the pine-trees and the lapping of the waters create a symphony of music and wonder, a reminder of the beauty and power of the natural world. Longfellow's vivid imagery brings the scene to life, inviting the reader to imagine themselves in this tranquil setting.

The Quest for Fish

But Hiawatha is not simply enjoying the beauty of the scene. He has a specific purpose: to catch fish. Longfellow describes his quest in intricate detail, from the tools he uses to the techniques he employs:

From the white sand of the bottom Up he drew the ponderous fish-bone; And aloft, exulting, held it, With its shining teeth and jaws. Round it spun the reel and flint-head; Singing, 'O my Hiawatha!' Cried he, with his face uplifted To the broad, blue sky above him.

The language here is beautiful and descriptive, capturing the excitement and satisfaction of catching a fish. Hiawatha's exultation as he holds up the fish-bone is palpable, and the sing-song rhythm of the poem adds to the sense of joy and celebration.

A Connection to Nature

But "Hiawatha's Fishing" is more than just a tale of one man's quest for fish. At its heart, the poem is about the spiritual connection that humans have with the natural world. Longfellow explores this theme through his use of imagery and metaphor:

From the bowstring, Hiawatha Sent the feathered shaft, Keneu, Sent the whizzing, singing arrow Swiftly to the mark Kabibonokka; With his mittens, Minjekahwun, Smote upon the rocks around him, Swung his birch canoe in circles,

Listening to the Lapland echoes, To the whispers of the pine-trees,

And the water-flags, the rushes, Nodded their approval of him.

In this passage, we see Hiawatha not simply as a fisherman, but as a part of the natural world. The bowstring and feathered shaft become extensions of his body, allowing him to connect with the animals he is hunting. The rocks, trees, and rushes become his audience, nodding their approval of his skill and prowess. Through these metaphors, Longfellow suggests that humans are not separate from nature, but are an integral part of it.

The Power of Imagination

Another theme that emerges in "Hiawatha's Fishing" is the power of imagination. Longfellow celebrates Hiawatha's creativity and resourcefulness as he uses his wits to catch fish:

On the white sand of the bottom Lay the monster Mishe-Nahma, Lay the sturgeon, King of Fishes; Through his gills he breathed the water, With his fins he fanned and winnowed, With his tail he swept the sand-floor. There he lay in all his armor; On each side a shield to guard him, Plates of bone upon his forehead, Down his sides and back and shoulders Plates of bone with spines projecting!

'O my little friend, the squirrel, Bravely have you caught and killed me! Take the splinters from my forehead, Take the thorns from out my shoulders, Pluck the quills from out my body; And the little Hiawatha Learned of every bird its language, Learned their names and all their secrets,

How they built their nests in summer, Where they hid themselves in winter, Talked with them whene'er he met them, Called them 'Hiawatha's Chickens.'

Here, we see Hiawatha using his imagination to catch the sturgeon. He imagines the fish as a monster with armor, and he overcomes it by appealing to its sympathy. The squirrel that helped him catch the fish becomes his friend, and he learns the language of the birds. Through these examples, Longfellow suggests that imagination is a powerful tool for humans, allowing them to connect with and understand the natural world.


In "Hiawatha's Fishing," Longfellow creates a beautiful and evocative portrait of man's connection to nature. Through vivid imagery, metaphor, and celebration of imagination and resourcefulness, Longfellow invites the reader to see the natural world as a source of wonder and inspiration. The poem is a masterpiece of American poetry, a tribute to the power of language and the beauty of the world around us.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has always been a medium for expressing emotions and experiences in a beautiful and artistic way. One such masterpiece is "Hiawatha's Fishing" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This classic poem is a beautiful portrayal of the art of fishing and the connection between man and nature.

The poem begins with Hiawatha, the protagonist, setting out on a fishing trip. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, with its vivid imagery and descriptive language. The reader can almost feel the cool breeze and hear the sound of the water as Hiawatha sets out on his journey.

As Hiawatha casts his line into the water, Longfellow describes the beauty of the fish and the thrill of the catch. The poem is filled with imagery that captures the essence of fishing, from the "gleaming pike" to the "speckled trout." The reader can almost feel the excitement of the catch as Hiawatha reels in his prize.

But the poem is not just about the thrill of the catch. Longfellow also explores the deeper connection between man and nature. Hiawatha is not just fishing for sport or food, but for a deeper understanding of the world around him. As he fishes, he observes the natural world and learns from it. He sees the "water-lilies" and the "rushes" and understands their place in the ecosystem.

Longfellow also explores the spiritual aspect of fishing. Hiawatha is not just fishing for fish, but for a deeper connection with the world around him. He sees the "great Pearl-Feather" and understands its significance as a symbol of the natural world. He also sees the "kingfisher" and understands its place in the spiritual world.

The poem is also a celebration of the Native American culture. Hiawatha is a Native American hero, and the poem is filled with references to Native American culture and traditions. Longfellow celebrates the Native American way of life and their connection to the natural world.

Overall, "Hiawatha's Fishing" is a beautiful poem that captures the essence of fishing and the connection between man and nature. Longfellow's use of vivid imagery and descriptive language creates a world that the reader can almost step into. The poem is a celebration of the natural world and the Native American way of life. It is a timeless masterpiece that will continue to inspire and captivate readers for generations to come.

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