I am a huge fan of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow outside the ambit of the literary circle and a great admirer of him within it. He is a poet who acts often as a preacher always telling us which way to go in life. If you are a Christian, you must have read the Psalms in The Holy Bible. However, if you are a student of literature, you must have read the Psalms of Life by this great poet Longfellow. One is religion and morality and another is, to a very great extent, no lesser than that! And today, I am taking some time out of my busy schedule to write for kids – the kids of secondary and higher secondary classes who have to study on of the finest poems of Longfellow – The Village Blacksmith. I will be writing the summary as well as detailed analysis of the poem so that the students might follow what the great poet tried to hint through his poem. So, let’s study Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith!
Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
Meaning and Details: These lines mean what you are seeing in the lines. The poet talks about a person, the blacksmith of course, who is strong and he is standing under the chestnut tree. His hands are stronger than usual and the poet uses a simile to compare his hands to iron bands in the last line.
His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.
Meaning and Details: In the second stanza, Longfellow gives us a further description of the person (blacksmith). He tells us that the blacksmith has long, black and crisp hairs. The next thing is his face which is tan (brownish). After the first two lines, the next four lines are very important with respect to the meanings and connotations. The blacksmith’s brow is wet with ‘honest sweat’ and he earns only what he can. The poet is hinting at the ‘honesty’ and ‘satisfaction’ of the blacksmith. He does not borrow from anyone because he earns as per his capacity and does not demand more. He is not greedy! And a person who does not owe to anyone can live a life happy and glee! The expression ‘looks the whole world in the face’ means to tell the readers that a person who is honest, not greedy and does not borrow unnecessarily (or not at all) can be equal with everyone in the terms of treatment. He won’t need to flatter someone!
Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.
Meaning and Details: These lines are all praise for the blacksmith’s labour that he does from the morning to the evening until the sun sets. The sounds of his sledge sound like the village bell. A person can always hear his bellows (the set-up to heat the iron to be able to forge it). And this goes on every day…
And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.
Meaning and Details: In this stanza, Longfellow tells the readers about the school children who (out of curiosity and admiration) love to see the blacksmith’s work through the door which remains open. Children love to see the bellows which produce sounds like roaring. Children also love to see the sparks which keep flying and produce a scene like the flying husks during the threshing procedure.
He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.
Meaning and Details: In this stanza, the poet is relaxed and he is telling us about the soft side in the heart of this strong blacksmith who goes to attend the church every Sunday with his family. The blacksmith hears carefully the preacher’s message; he listens to the prayer with joy and also loves to listen to his daughter’s voice who plays in the village choir. And all this Sunday episode, the poet says, makes the blacksmith happy and satisfied!
It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.
Meaning and Details: The poet continues the stanza from where he left off in the last one. Longfellow tells us that the Blacksmith feels that the voice of his daughter is just like her mother – his wife (who has died) as if she is singing in the heaven. The blacksmith thinks about his wife in the grave and tears flow out of his eyes. He wipes the tears with his ‘hard and rough’ hands. In these lines, the poet seems to suggest that the outlook of the blacksmith is hardened but he owns a soft heart which has emotions!
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.
Meaning and Details: This stanza and the last one after it are very important. As I told earlier, Longfellow is a person who is a poet as well as a preacher who always tends to tell us the right path to go ahead. The blacksmith becomes his vehicle in this poem to tell us what should be the ‘structure’ of a happy and satisfied life. The blacksmith spends his life working hard, being happy and being sad at times. He keeps moving ahead in his life as each morning he starts something new and ends it with the evening. Every day he works and every night he rests fully. The hard work he does in the morning gives him the sleep of calm in the night. The blacksmith, to the poet, is an ideal person!
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.
Meaning and Details: And this is the last stanza of the poem which by all means is the most important one. The poet thanks the blacksmith for the ‘lesson’ that he has taught to the poet (and then the poet taught to the readers). Longfellow tells that we should also learn the lesson of hard work from the village blacksmith and never shy away from determination and labour which will eventually build our fortunes. This world is just like the anvil on which we have to shape our deeds and thoughts to make ourselves a better person day by day…
Conclusion: The poem The Village Blacksmith is a beautiful, purposeful, insightful and meaningful poem. It tells us about the life of a blacksmith who becomes the metaphor for a purposeful life. We must learn from him – his hard work and satisfaction. We can always make our lives happy; we can always make ourselves stronger!
(thanks to James who pointed out a crucial mistake in my writing which could just change the entire meaning)