The Village Blacksmith

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The Village Blacksmith (manuscript page 1)

"The Village Blacksmith" is a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, first published in 1840. The poem describes a local blacksmith and his daily life. The blacksmith serves as a role model who balances his job with the role he plays with his family and community. Years after its publication, a tree mentioned in the poem was cut down and part of it was made into an armchair which was then presented to Longfellow by local schoolchildren.

Synopsis[edit]

The poem is about a local blacksmith who is noted as being strong and for not owing anyone anything, working by the sweat of his own brow. Children coming home from school stop to stare at him as he works, impressed by the roaring bellows and burning sparks. On Sundays, the blacksmith, a single father after the death of his wife, takes his children to church, where his daughter sings in the choir. He goes through his life following the daily tasks assigned to him and has earned his sleep at night.

Origins[edit]

The title character of "The Village Blacksmith", third from the left, depicted in the Longfellow Memorial by Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Longfellow said the poem was a tribute to his ancestor Stephen Longfellow, who had been a blacksmith, a schoolmaster, then a town clerk.[1] In 1745, this ancestor was the first Longfellow to make his way to Portland, Maine, the town where the poet would be born.[2] The actual village blacksmith in the poem, however, was a Cambridge native named Dexter Pratt, a neighbor of Longfellow's. Pratt's house is still standing at 54 Brattle Street in Cambridge.[3]

Analysis[edit]

The title character of "The Village Blacksmith" is presented as an "everyman" and a role model: he balances his commitments to work, the community, and his family.[4] The character is presented as an iconic tradesman who is embedded in the history of the town and its defining institutions because he is a longtime resident with deeply rooted strength, as symbolized by the "spreading chestnut tree".[5]

Publication and response[edit]

Chair made from the chestnut tree in the poem, presented to Longfellow in 1879

"The Village Blacksmith" was first published in the November 1840 issue of The Knickerbocker.[6] It was soon after printed as part of Longfellow's poetry collection Ballads and Other Poems in 1841.[7] The collection, which also included "The Wreck of the Hesperus", was instantly popular.[8] In 1879, years after the publication of "The Village Blacksmith", the local schoolchildren in Cambridge, Massachusetts presented Longfellow with an armchair made from "the spreading chestnut tree" in the poem which was recently cut down.[9] Under the cushion of the chair is a brass plate on which is inscribed, in part: "This chair made from the wood of the spreading chestnut-tree is presented as an expression of his grateful regard and veneration by the children of Cambridge".[10] From then on, Longfellow made it a rule to allow schoolchildren to be admitted into his study to see the chair.[11] He also composed a poem to commemorate his gift called "From my Arm-Chair". The site on Brattle Street in Cambridge where the tree once stood is now marked with a plaque.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 226. ISBN 0-86576-008-X
  2. ^ Hawthorne, Hildegarde. The Poet of Craigie House: The Story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1936: 130.
  3. ^ Wilson, Susan. Literary Trail of Greater Boston. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000: 105. ISBN 0-618-05013-2
  4. ^ Schwehn, Mark R. and Dorothy C. Bass. Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000: 281. ISBN 0-8028-3256-3.
  5. ^ Laurie, Bruce. Beyond Garrison: Antislavery and Social Reform. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005: 175. ISBN 0-521-60517-2
  6. ^ Gale, Robert L. A Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003: 278. ISBN 0-313-32350-X
  7. ^ Williams, Cecil B. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1964: 78.
  8. ^ Calhoun, Charles C. Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004: 138. ISBN 0-8070-7026-2.
  9. ^ Williams, Cecil B. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1964: 100.
  10. ^ Harberts, Ethel F. Footprints of Henry W. Longfellow: A Travel Guide to America's Favorite Poet. St. Cloud, Minnesota: North Star Press, 1993: 78. ISBN 0-9635735-0-0
  11. ^ Sullivan, Wilson. New England Men of Letters. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1972: 198. ISBN 0-02-788680-8.
  12. ^ Wagenknecht, Edward. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Portrait of an American Humanist. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966: 109.

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