For reasons I’m unsure of I was recently moved to revisit Longfellow’s poetry, specifically “The Song of Hiawatha” which I had never read from beginning to end. It is easy to dismiss Longfellow as a rhymey-dimey poet forgettable after high school and of passing interest as part of the line of American poets who interest us as in some sense ancestral to our own art.
Well, I may be going soft but I found “Hiawatha” to be awfully good, occasionally moving and very, very interesting. And I hasten to add that I am richer for the experience, hated to see the noble savage paddling westward at the end of the poem. I really had no idea that he departed with the arrival of the white men, priests and the weight the moment carried as I read it. Of course I’m influenced by my own understandings but I value that they must be entirely differrent from those of Longfellow’s contemporaries and are still valid, which is sort of the point of this post:
Whatever we bring to the poem today is valid and what we may intuit about the departure of Hiawatha upon the arrival of the white men is deep, profound and somewhat saddening in light of what we know today. The bigger point is that the great poems stand the test of time and remain valid irrespective of who reads them and how time has changed things. They are new because we are new.
And it took Longfellow to remind me of this. Go read “The Song of Hiawatha” and enjoy!
So long for now.