'Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
Of the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood Nokomis, the old woman,
Pointing with her finger westward,
O'er the water pointing westward,
To the purple clouds of sunset.
Fiercely the red sun descending
Burned his way along the heavens,
Set the sky on fire behind him,
As war-parties, when retreating,
Burn the prairies on their war-trail;
And the moon, the Night-sun, eastward,
Suddenly starting from his ambush,
Followed fast those bloody footprints,
Followed in that fiery war-trail,
With its glare upon his features.
And Nokomis, the old woman,
Pointing with her finger westward,
Spake these words to Hiawatha:
"Yonder dwells the great Pearl-Feather,
Megissogwon, the Magician,
Manito of Wealth and Wampum,
Guarded by his fiery serpents,
Guarded by the black pitch-water.
You can see his fiery serpents,
The Kenabeek, the great serpents,
Coiling, playing in the water;
You can see the black pitch-water
Stretching far away beyond them,
To the purple clouds of sunset!
"He it was who slew my father,
By his wicked wiles and cunning,
When he from the moon descended,
When he came on earth to seek me.
He, the mightiest of Magicians,
Sends the fever from the marshes,
Sends the pestilential vapors,
Sends the poisonous exhalations,
Sends the white fog from the fen-lands,
Sends disease and death among us!
"Take your bow, O Hiawatha,
Take your arrows, jasper-headed,
Take your war-club, Puggawaugun,
And your mittens, Minjekahwun,
And your birch-canoe for sailing,
And the oil of Mishe-Nahma,
So to smear its sides, that swiftly
You may pass the black pitch-water;
Slay this merciless magician,
Save the people from the fever
That he breathes across the fen-lands,
And avenge my father's murder!"
Straightway then my Hiawatha
Armed himself with all his war-gear,
Launched his birch-canoe for sailing;
With his palm its sides he patted,
Said with glee, "Cheemaun, my darling,
O my Birch-canoe! leap forward,
Where you see the fiery serpents,
Where you see the black pitch-water!"
Forward leaped Cheemaun exulting,
And the noble Hiawatha
Sang his war-song wild and woful,
And above him the war-eagle,
The Keneu, the great war-eagle,
Master of all fowls with feathers,
Screamed and hurtled through the heavens.
Soon he reached the fiery serpents,
The Kenabeek, the great serpents,
Lying huge upon the water,
Sparkling, rippling in the water,
Lying coiled across the passage,
With their blazing crests uplifted,
Breathing fiery fogs and vapors,
So that none could pass beyond them.
But the fearless Hiawatha
Cried aloud, and spake in this wise,
"Let me pass my way, Kenabeek,
Let me go upon my journey!"
And they answered, hissing fiercely,
With their fiery breath made answer:
"Back, go back! O Shaugodaya!
Back to old Nokomis, Faint-heart!"
Then the angry Hiawatha
Raised his mighty bow of ash-tree,
Seized his arrows, jasper-headed,
Shot them fast among the serpents;
Every twanging of the bow-string
Was a war-cry and a death-cry,
Every whizzing of an arrow
Was a death-song of Kenabeek.
Weltering in the bloody water,
Dead lay all the fiery serpents,
And among them Hiawatha
Harmless sailed, and cried exulting:
"Onward, O Cheemaun, my darling!
Onward to the black pitch-water!"
Then he took the oil of Nahma,
And the bows and sides anointed,
Smeared them well with oil, that swiftly
He might pass the black pitch-water.
All night long he sailed upon it,
Sailed upon that sluggish water,
Covered with its mould of ages,
Black with rotting water-rushes,
Rank with flags and leaves of lilies,
Stagnant, lifeless, dreary, dismal,
Lighted by the shimmering moonlight,
And by will-o'-the-wisps illumined,
Fires by ghosts of dead men kindled,
In their weary night-encampments.
All the air was white with moonlight,
All the water black with shadow,
And around him the Suggema,
The mosquito, sang his war-song,
And the fire-flies, Wah-wah-taysee,
Waved their torches to mislead him;
And the bull-frog, the Dahinda,
Thrust his head into the moonlight,
Fixed his yellow eyes upon him,
Sobbed and sank beneath the surface;
And anon a thousand whistles,
Answered over all the fen-lands,
And the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Far off on the reedy margin,
Heralded the hero's coming.
Westward thus fared Hiawatha,
Toward the realm of Megissogwon,
Toward the land of the Pearl-Feather,
Till the level moon stared at him
In his face stared pale and haggard,
Till the sun was hot behind him,
Till it burned upon his shoulders,
And before him on the upland
He could see the Shining Wigwam
Of the Manito of Wampum,
Of the mightiest of Magicians.
Then once more Cheemaun he patted,
To his birch-canoe said, "Onward!"
And it stirred in all its fibres,
And with one great bound of triumph
Leaped across the water-lilies,
Leaped through tangled flags and rushes,
And upon the beach beyond them
Dry-shod landed Hiawatha.
Straight he took his bow of ash-tree,
On the sand one end he rested,
With his knee he pressed the middle,
Stretched the faithful bow-string tighter,
Took an arrow, jasperheaded,
Shot it at the Shining Wigwam,
Sent it singing as a herald,
As a bearer of his message,
Of his challenge loud and lofty:
"Come forth from your lodge, Pearl-Feather!
Hiawatha waits your coming!"
Straightway from the Shining Wigwam
Came the mighty Megissogwon,
Tall of stature, broad of shoulder,
Dark and terrible in aspect,
Clad from head to foot in wampum,
Armed with all his warlike weapons,
Painted like the sky of morning,
Streaked with crimson, blue, and yellow,
Crested with great eagle-feathers,
Streaming upward, streaming outward.
"Well I know you, Hiawatha!"
Cried he in a voice of thunder,
In a tone of loud derision.
"Hasten back, O Shaugodaya!
Hasten back among the women,
Back to old Nokomis, Faint-heart!
I will slay you as you stand there,
As of old I slew her father!"
But my Hiawatha answered,
Nothing daunted, fearing nothing:
"Big words do not smite like war-clubs,
Boastful breath is not a bow-string,
Taunts are not so sharp as arrows,
Deeds are better things than words are,
Actions mightier than boastings!"
Then began the greatest battle
That the sun had ever looked on,
That the war-birds ever witnessed.
All a Summer's day it lasted,
From the sunrise to the sunset;
For the shafts of Hiawatha
Harmless hit the shirt of wampum,
Harmless fell the blows he dealt it
With his mittens, Minjekahwun,
Harmless fell the heavy war-club;
It could dash the rocks asunder,
But it could not break the meshes
Of that magic shirt of wampum.
Till at sunset Hiawatha,
Leaning on his bow of ash-tree,
Wounded, weary, and desponding,
With his mighty war-club broken,
With his mittens torn and tattered,
And three useless arrows only,
Paused to rest beneath a pine-tree,
From whose branches trailed the mosses,
And whose trunk was coated over
With the Dead-man's Moccasin-leather,
With the fungus white and yellow.
Suddenly from the boughs above him
Sang the Mama, the woodpecker:
"Aim your arrows, Hiawatha,
At the head of Megissogwon,
Strike the tuft of hair upon it,
At their roots the long black tresses;
There alone can he be wounded!"
Winged with feathers, tipped with jasper,
Swift flew Hiawatha's arrow,
Just as Megissogwon, stooping,
Raised a heavy stone to throw it.
Full upon the crown it struck him,
At the roots of his long tresses,
And he reeled and staggered forward,
Plunging like a wounded bison,
Yes, like Pezhekee, the bison,
When the snow is on the prairie.
Swifter flew the second arrow,
In the pathway of the other,
Piercing deeper than the other,
Wounding sorer than the other;
And the knees of Megissogwon
Shook like windy reeds beneath him,
Bent and trembled like the rushes.
But the third and latest arrow
Swiftest flew, and wounded sorest,
And the mighty Megissogwon
Saw the fiery eyes of Pauguk,
Saw the eyes of Death glare at him,
Heard his voice call in the darkness;
At the feet of Hiawatha
Lifeless lay the great Pearl-Feather,
Lay the mightiest of Magicians.
Then the grateful Hiawatha
Called the Mama, the woodpecker,
From his perch among the branches
Of the melancholy pine-tree,
And, in honor of his service,
Stained with blood the tuft of feathers
On the little head of Mama;
Even to this day he wears it,
Wears the tuft of crimson feathers,
As a symbol of his service.
Then he stripped the shirt of wampum
From the back of Megissogwon,
As a trophy of the battle,
As a signal of his conquest.
On the shore he left the body,
Half on land and half in water,
In the sand his feet were buried,
And his face was in the water.
And above him, wheeled and clamored
The Keneu, the great war-eagle,
Sailing round in narrower circles,
Hovering nearer, nearer, nearer.
From the wigwam Hiawatha
Bore the wealth of Megissogwon,
All his wealth of skins and wampum,
Furs of bison and of beaver,
Furs of sable and of ermine,
Wampum belts and strings and pouches,
Quivers wrought with beads of wampum,
Filled with arrows, silver-headed.
Homeward then he sailed exulting,
Homeward through the black pitch-water,
Homeward through the weltering serpents,
With the trophies of the battle,
With a shout and song of triumph.
On the shore stood old Nokomis,
On the shore stood Chibiabos,
And the very strong man, Kwasind,
Waiting for the hero's coming,
Listening to his songs of triumph.
And the people of the village
Welcomed him with songs and dances,
Made a joyous feast, and shouted:
'Honor be to Hiawatha!
He has slain the great Pearl-Feather,
Slain the mightiest of Magicians,
Him, who sent the fiery fever,
Sent the white fog from the fen-lands,
Sent disease and death among us!"
Ever dear to Hiawatha
Was the memory of Mama!
And in token of his friendship,
As a mark of his remembrance,
He adorned and decked his pipe-stem
With the crimson tuft of feathers,
With the blood-red crest of Mama.
But the wealth of Megissogwon,
All the trophies of the battle,
He divided with his people,
Shared it equally among them.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather is a poem that tells the story of Hiawatha, a Native American hero, who embarks on a quest to obtain a pearl-feather from the King of the Eagles. This poem is part of Longfellow's epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha, which was first published in 1855. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the themes, symbols, and literary devices used in Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather.


One of the major themes in Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather is the idea of heroism. Hiawatha is portrayed as a brave and courageous hero who is willing to risk his life to obtain the pearl-feather. His determination and perseverance are highlighted in the poem, as he faces various obstacles on his journey. This theme of heroism is also seen in other parts of The Song of Hiawatha, where Hiawatha is portrayed as a legendary hero who brings peace and prosperity to his people.

Another important theme in Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather is the idea of nature and its power. Throughout the poem, nature is personified as a powerful force that can help or hinder Hiawatha on his quest. The animals and birds that Hiawatha encounters on his journey are not just passive creatures, but active participants in the story. The eagle, for example, is not just a symbolic representation of power, but an actual character with personality and agency.


One of the most prominent symbols in Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather is the pearl-feather itself. This object is not just a valuable treasure, but a symbol of power and strength. The King of the Eagles guards the pearl-feather with great care, and only the most worthy hero can obtain it. The pearl-feather also symbolizes the connection between humans and nature, as it is a feather from an eagle, a powerful and majestic bird.

Another important symbol in the poem is the eagle. The eagle is a symbol of power and freedom, and is associated with the divine. The eagle is also a symbol of the natural world, and its presence in the story reminds us of the importance of nature in Native American culture.

Literary Devices

Longfellow uses a number of literary devices in Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather. One of the most notable is alliteration. Throughout the poem, Longfellow uses alliteration to create a musical and rhythmic quality to the language. For example, in the first stanza, he writes:

"On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
 Of the shining Big-Sea-Water,
 Stood Nokomis, the old woman,
 Pointing with her finger westward,"

The repetition of the "s" and "w" sounds create a sense of rhythm and musicality in the language.

Another important literary device used in the poem is personification. Longfellow personifies nature throughout the poem, giving animals and birds human-like characteristics. For example, he writes:

"Then uprose the King of Eagles,
 With his broad and ample pinions,
 Clapped them fiercely overhead,
 With his eyes agleam with anger,"

The personification of the eagle gives it a sense of character and personality, making it more than just a symbol.


Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather can be interpreted in a number of ways. One possible interpretation is that it is a story about the importance of perseverance and determination. Hiawatha faces many obstacles on his journey, but he never gives up. This perseverance is rewarded in the end, when he obtains the pearl-feather. This interpretation reinforces the idea of heroism that is a major theme in the poem.

Another possible interpretation is that the poem is a commentary on the relationship between humans and nature. The pearl-feather, as a symbol of the connection between humans and nature, highlights the importance of respecting and protecting the natural world. This interpretation is reinforced by the personification of nature throughout the poem, which emphasizes the idea that nature is not just a backdrop to human activity, but an active participant in it.


Hiawatha And The Pearl-Feather is a powerful poem that explores themes of heroism, nature, and the relationship between humans and the natural world. Longfellow's use of symbols and literary devices adds depth and complexity to the story, making it more than just a simple tale of adventure. This poem, and The Song of Hiawatha as a whole, remains an important part of American literature, and a testament to Longfellow's skill as a poet.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather" is a classic poem that tells the story of Hiawatha, a Native American hero, and his quest to obtain a magical pearl-feather from the King of the Eagles. The poem is a beautiful and captivating work of art that showcases Longfellow's mastery of language and storytelling.

The poem begins with Hiawatha's journey to the land of the Eagles, where he hopes to obtain the pearl-feather. Along the way, he encounters various obstacles and challenges, including a fierce storm and a treacherous mountain pass. Despite these challenges, Hiawatha perseveres and eventually reaches the land of the Eagles.

Once there, Hiawatha must prove his worthiness to the King of the Eagles, who is reluctant to give up the pearl-feather. Hiawatha does so by performing a series of tasks, including climbing a tall tree and retrieving an eagle's egg. Impressed by Hiawatha's bravery and determination, the King of the Eagles finally agrees to give him the pearl-feather.

The poem is filled with vivid imagery and beautiful descriptions of nature. Longfellow's use of language is masterful, and he paints a vivid picture of Hiawatha's journey and the world around him. For example, in describing the storm that Hiawatha encounters, Longfellow writes:

"The winds blew loud, the thunder crashed,
The lightnings flashed like fire;
And through the darkness round him cast
The red flames of the pyre."

This passage is just one example of the many beautiful and evocative descriptions that Longfellow uses throughout the poem.

In addition to its beautiful language and imagery, "Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather" is also a powerful story of perseverance and bravery. Hiawatha faces numerous challenges and obstacles on his journey, but he never gives up. Instead, he continues to push forward, determined to achieve his goal.

This message of perseverance and determination is particularly relevant today, as we face our own challenges and obstacles. Whether it's overcoming personal struggles or fighting for social justice, we can all learn from Hiawatha's example and strive to never give up in the face of adversity.

Overall, "Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather" is a beautiful and powerful poem that showcases Longfellow's mastery of language and storytelling. Its message of perseverance and determination is as relevant today as it was when the poem was first written, and it serves as a reminder of the power of the human spirit to overcome even the greatest of challenges.

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