'Hiawatha 's Fasting' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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You shall hear how Hiawatha
Prayed and fasted in the forest,
Not for greater skill in hunting,
Not for greater craft in fishing,
Not for triumphs in the battle,
And renown among the warriors,
But for profit of the people,
For advantage of the nations.
First he built a lodge for fasting,
Built a wigwam in the forest,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
In the blithe and pleasant Spring-time,
In the Moon of Leaves he built it,
And, with dreams and visions many,
Seven whole days and nights he fasted.
On the first day of his fasting
Through the leafy woods he wandered;
Saw the deer start from the thicket,
Saw the rabbit in his burrow,
Heard the pheasant, Bena, drumming,
Heard the squirrel, Adjidaumo,
Rattling in his hoard of acorns,
Saw the pigeon, the Omeme,
Building nests among the pinetrees,
And in flocks the wild-goose, Wawa,
Flying to the fen-lands northward,
Whirring, wailing far above him.
"Master of Life!" he cried, desponding,
"Must our lives depend on these things?"
On the next day of his fasting
By the river's brink he wandered,
Through the Muskoday, the meadow,
Saw the wild rice, Mahnomonee,
Saw the blueberry, Meenahga,
And the strawberry, Odahmin,
And the gooseberry, Shahbomin,
And the grape.vine, the Bemahgut,
Trailing o'er the alder-branches,
Filling all the air with fragrance!
"Master of Life!" he cried, desponding,
"Must our lives depend on these things?"
On the third day of his fasting
By the lake he sat and pondered,
By the still, transparent water;
Saw the sturgeon, Nahma, leaping,
Scattering drops like beads of wampum,
Saw the yellow perch, the Sahwa,
Like a sunbeam in the water,
Saw the pike, the Maskenozha,
And the herring, Okahahwis,
And the Shawgashee, the crawfish!
"Master of Life!" he cried, desponding,
"Must our lives depend on these things?"
On the fourth day of his fasting
In his lodge he lay exhausted;
From his couch of leaves and branches
Gazing with half-open eyelids,
Full of shadowy dreams and visions,
On the dizzy, swimming landscape,
On the gleaming of the water,
On the splendor of the sunset.
And he saw a youth approaching,
Dressed in garments green and yellow,
Coming through the purple twilight,
Through the splendor of the sunset;
Plumes of green bent o'er his forehead,
And his hair was soft and golden.
Standing at the open doorway,
Long he looked at Hiawatha,
Looked with pity and compassion
On his wasted form and features,
And, in accents like the sighing
Of the South-Wind in the tree-tops,
Said he, "O my Hiawatha!
All your prayers are heard in heaven,
For you pray not like the others;
Not for greater skill in hunting,
Not for greater craft in fishing,
Not for triumph in the battle,
Nor renown among the warriors,
But for profit of the people,
For advantage of the nations.
"From the Master of Life descending,
I, the friend of man, Mondamin,
Come to warn you and instruct you,
How by struggle and by labor
You shall gain what you have prayed for.
Rise up from your bed of branches,
Rise, O youth, and wrestle with me!"
Faint with famine, Hiawatha
Started from his bed of branches,
From the twilight of his wigwam
Forth into the flush of sunset
Came, and wrestled with Mondamin;
At his touch he felt new courage
Throbbing in his brain and bosom,
Felt new life and hope and vigor
Run through every nerve and fibre.
So they wrestled there together
In the glory of the sunset,
And the more they strove and struggled,
Stronger still grew Hiawatha;
Till the darkness fell around them,
And the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
From her nest among the pine-trees,
Gave a cry of lamentation,
Gave a scream of pain and famine.
"'T Is enough!" then said Mondamin,
Smiling upon Hiawatha,
"But tomorrow, when the sun sets,
I will come again to try you."
And he vanished, and was seen not;
Whether sinking as the rain sinks,
Whether rising as the mists rise,
Hiawatha saw not, knew not,
Only saw that he had vanished,
Leaving him alone and fainting,
With the misty lake below him,
And the reeling stars above him.
On the morrow and the next day,
When the sun through heaven descending,
Like a red and burning cinder
From the hearth of the Great Spirit,
Fell into the western waters,
Came Mondamin for the trial,
For the strife with Hiawatha;
Came as silent as the dew comes,
From the empty air appearing,
Into empty air returning,
Taking shape when earth it touches,
But invisible to all men
In its coming and its going.
Thrice they wrestled there together
In the glory of the sunset,
Till the darkness fell around them,
Till the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
From her nest among the pine-trees,
Uttered her loud cry of famine,
And Mondamin paused to listen.
Tall and beautiful he stood there,
In his garments green and yellow;
To and fro his plumes above him,
Waved and nodded with his breathing,
And the sweat of the encounter
Stood like drops of dew upon him.
And he cried, "O Hiawatha!
Bravely have you wrestled with me,
Thrice have wrestled stoutly with me,
And the Master of Life, who sees us,
He will give to you the triumph!"
Then he smiled, and said: "To-morrow
Is the last day of your conflict,
Is the last day of your fasting.
You will conquer and o'ercome me;
Make a bed for me to lie in,
Where the rain may fall upon me,
Where the sun may come and warm me;
Strip these garments, green and yellow,
Strip this nodding plumage from me,
Lay me in the earth, and make it
Soft and loose and light above me.
"Let no hand disturb my slumber,
Let no weed nor worm molest me,
Let not Kahgahgee, the raven,
Come to haunt me and molest me,
Only come yourself to watch me,
Till I wake, and start, and quicken,
Till I leap into the sunshine"
And thus saying, he departed;
Peacefully slept Hiawatha,
But he heard the Wawonaissa,
Heard the whippoorwill complaining,
Perched upon his lonely wigwam;
Heard the rushing Sebowisha,
Heard the rivulet rippling near him,
Talking to the darksome forest;
Heard the sighing of the branches,
As they lifted and subsided
At the passing of the night-wind,
Heard them, as one hears in slumber
Far-off murmurs, dreamy whispers:
Peacefully slept Hiawatha.
On the morrow came Nokomis,
On the seventh day of his fasting,
Came with food for Hiawatha,
Came imploring and bewailing,
Lest his hunger should o'ercome him,
Lest his fasting should be fatal.
But he tasted not, and touched not,
Only said to her, "Nokomis,
Wait until the sun is setting,
Till the darkness falls around us,
Till the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Crying from the desolate marshes,
Tells us that the day is ended."
Homeward weeping went Nokomis,
Sorrowing for her Hiawatha,
Fearing lest his strength should fail him,
Lest his fasting should be fatal.
He meanwhile sat weary waiting
For the coming of Mondamin,
Till the shadows, pointing eastward,
Lengthened over field and forest,
Till the sun dropped from the heaven,
Floating on the waters westward,
As a red leaf in the Autumn
Falls and floats upon the water,
Falls and sinks into its bosom.
And behold! the young Mondamin,
With his soft and shining tresses,
With his garments green and yellow,
With his long and glossy plumage,
Stood and beckoned at the doorway.
And as one in slumber walking,
Pale and haggard, but undaunted,
From the wigwam Hiawatha
Came and wrestled with Mondamin.
Round about him spun the landscape,
Sky and forest reeled together,
And his strong heart leaped within him,
As the sturgeon leaps and struggles
In a net to break its meshes.
Like a ring of fire around him
Blazed and flared the red horizon,
And a hundred suns seemed looking
At the combat of the wrestlers.
Suddenly upon the greensward
All alone stood Hiawatha,
Panting with his wild exertion,
Palpitating with the struggle;
And before him breathless, lifeless,
Lay the youth, with hair dishevelled,
Plumage torn, and garments tattered,
Dead he lay there in the sunset.
And victorious Hiawatha
Made the grave as he commanded,
Stripped the garments from Mondamin,
Stripped his tattered plumage from him,
Laid him in the earth, and made it
Soft and loose and light above him;
And the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
From the melancholy moorlands,
Gave a cry of lamentation,
Gave a cry of pain and anguish!
Homeward then went Hiawatha
To the lodge of old Nokomis,
And the seven days of his fasting
Were accomplished and completed.
But the place was not forgotten
Where he wrestled with Mondamin;
Nor forgotten nor neglected
Was the grave where lay Mondamin,
Sleeping in the rain and sunshine,
Where his scattered plumes and garments
Faded in the rain and sunshine.
Day by day did Hiawatha
Go to wait and watch beside it;
Kept the dark mould soft above it,
Kept it clean from weeds and insects,
Drove away, with scoffs and shoutings,
Kahgahgee, the king of ravens.
Till at length a small green feather
From the earth shot slowly upward,
Then another and another,
And before the Summer ended
Stood the maize in all its beauty,
With its shining robes about it,
And its long, soft, yellow tresses;
And in rapture Hiawatha
Cried aloud, "It is Mondamin!
Yes, the friend of man, Mondamin!"
Then he called to old Nokomis
And Iagoo, the great boaster,
Showed them where the maize was growing,
Told them of his wondrous vision,
Of his wrestling and his triumph,
Of this new gift to the nations,
Which should be their food forever.
And still later, when the Autumn
Changed the long, green leaves to yellow,
And the soft and juicy kernels
Grew like wampum hard and yellow,
Then the ripened ears he gathered,
Stripped the withered husks from off them,
As he once had stripped the wrestler,
Gave the first Feast of Mondamin,
And made known unto the people
This new gift of the Great Spirit.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Hiawatha's Fasting: A Poem of Resilience and Sacrifice

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Hiawatha's Fasting is a powerful poem that portrays the struggles of a Native American hero, Hiawatha, as he embarks on a spiritual journey of self-discovery and sacrifice. The poem, written in 1855, is part of Longfellow's epic work The Song of Hiawatha, which tells the story of the life and adventures of the legendary Ojibwe leader.

In this literary analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and imagery of Hiawatha's Fasting, and examine how Longfellow uses language and poetic devices to convey the emotional depth and spiritual significance of Hiawatha's journey.

The Themes of Hiawatha's Fasting

The central theme of Hiawatha's Fasting is resilience and sacrifice. Hiawatha, in order to fulfill his spiritual quest, decides to fast and abstain from food for several days. This act of self-denial is not only physically demanding but also emotionally challenging, as Hiawatha confronts his inner demons and wrestles with his doubts and fears.

Through Hiawatha's trials, Longfellow depicts the resilience of the human spirit and its ability to overcome adversity. Hiawatha's determination and stoicism inspire us to face our own trials and tribulations with courage and fortitude.

The poem also explores the theme of spirituality and the quest for enlightenment. Hiawatha's fasting is not just a physical ordeal but also a spiritual one, as he seeks to connect with the Great Spirit and receive divine guidance. His journey is one of self-discovery and self-improvement, as he confronts his weaknesses and strives to become a better person.

Finally, the poem touches on the theme of nature and its role in human life. Hiawatha's fasting takes place in the wilderness, surrounded by the beauty and majesty of nature. Longfellow's vivid descriptions of the landscape and wildlife evoke a sense of wonder and awe, reminding us of the interconnectedness of all living things.

The Structure and Imagery of Hiawatha's Fasting

Hiawatha's Fasting consists of eight stanzas of varying length, each with a distinct rhyme scheme and meter. The poem's structure is not strictly formal, but rather reflects the natural rhythm and flow of Hiawatha's journey.

Longfellow uses vivid imagery to create a sense of place and mood. The opening stanza sets the scene with a description of the wilderness:

Out of childhood into manhood
Now had grown my Hiawatha,
Skilled in all the craft of hunters,
Learned in all the lore of old men,
In all youthful sports and pastimes,
In all manly arts and labors.

Swift of foot was Hiawatha;
He could shoot an arrow from him,
And run forward with such fleetness,
That the arrow fell behind him!

The imagery here evokes a sense of awe and admiration for Hiawatha's skills and accomplishments. The description of him outrunning his own arrow is particularly striking, emphasizing his physical prowess and agility.

As the poem progresses, the imagery becomes more introspective and spiritual. Longfellow uses metaphors and symbolism to convey Hiawatha's inner struggles and growth. For example, in stanza six, Hiawatha sees a vision of a skeleton, which represents his fear of death and the impermanence of life:

Then uprose Hiawatha,
And with silent step departed,
Took the sacred belt of wampum,
Seized his bow, and arrows feathered
With the feathers of the eagle,
Shot the red deer through the forest,
Stamped upon the heads of serpents,
Till the bright green leaves were crimson,
Till the white snow-flakes were red-hot.

The imagery here is vivid and intense, conveying the urgency of Hiawatha's mission and his determination to overcome his fears and doubts. The contrast between the bright green leaves and the crimson color of the serpent's blood emphasizes the theme of life and death, and the impermanence of all things.

Poetic Devices in Hiawatha's Fasting

Longfellow employs a variety of poetic devices to enhance the emotional impact and meaning of Hiawatha's Fasting. These include:

These poetic devices help to create a rich and nuanced portrayal of Hiawatha's journey, highlighting the emotional depth and spiritual significance of his fasting.


In conclusion, Hiawatha's Fasting is a powerful and evocative poem that explores themes of resilience, sacrifice, spirituality, and nature. Longfellow's vivid imagery and poetic devices create a rich and nuanced portrayal of Hiawatha's journey, emphasizing the emotional depth and spiritual significance of his fasting.

The poem is a testament to the human spirit's ability to overcome adversity and connect with the divine, and serves as an inspiration to all who seek to grow and improve themselves. Through Hiawatha's trials and tribulations, we are reminded of our own capacity for resilience and self-discovery, and the power of the natural world to inspire wonder and awe.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Hiawatha's Fasting" is a classic poem that tells the story of Hiawatha, a Native American hero who goes on a spiritual journey to seek guidance from the Great Spirit. The poem is part of Longfellow's epic poem "The Song of Hiawatha," which was published in 1855 and became an instant success.

The poem begins with Hiawatha fasting for four days and nights in a secluded spot in the forest. He is seeking guidance from the Great Spirit, who he hopes will reveal to him the secrets of the universe. Hiawatha is determined to complete his fast, despite the hunger and thirst that he feels.

As Hiawatha fasts, he experiences a series of visions that reveal to him the mysteries of the universe. He sees the stars and the planets, and he hears the songs of the birds and the animals. He also sees the spirits of his ancestors, who tell him about the history of his people and the importance of their traditions.

The poem is written in Longfellow's signature style, which is characterized by its use of repetition and rhythm. The poem is structured in a way that mimics the rhythm of a Native American chant, with each stanza building on the previous one to create a sense of momentum and urgency.

One of the most striking features of the poem is its use of imagery. Longfellow uses vivid descriptions of nature to create a sense of awe and wonder in the reader. For example, he describes the stars as "the eyes of the night" and the moon as "the face of the sky." He also uses animal imagery to convey the power and majesty of the natural world, describing the eagle as "the king of birds" and the buffalo as "the lord of the prairie."

Another important theme in the poem is the importance of tradition and heritage. Hiawatha's visions of his ancestors remind him of the importance of preserving the customs and beliefs of his people. He realizes that his spiritual journey is not just for himself, but for the benefit of his entire community.

Overall, "Hiawatha's Fasting" is a powerful and evocative poem that captures the beauty and mystery of the natural world, as well as the importance of tradition and heritage. Longfellow's use of repetition, rhythm, and imagery creates a sense of urgency and wonder that draws the reader into Hiawatha's spiritual journey. It is a classic poem that continues to inspire and captivate readers to this day.

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