03-29-2010 04:15 PM
Background on The Song of Hiawatha
The poem was published in 1855 and was an immediate success. Longfellow claimed that over 50,000 copies of the poem were published and sold in his life. At the time when Walt Whitman was publishing the first of his many editions of Leaves of Grass this was the # 1 poem in the U.S.
The work is in trochaic tetrameter (trochee = - u, a long or accented syllable followed by a short or unaccented syllable). The most common meter in English is iambic, which is the reverse, a short followed by a long. The trochaic tetrameter is the meter of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, a work Longfellow was familiar with. But where Finnish is naturally trochaic, English is not, and so, the poem has a rather strange sound. Its other chief poetic quality, parallel structure, repetition and variation, adds to a certain sing-song sound. Longfellow claimed that the meter and the parallelism was intended to reflect Indian speech patterns. The meter does not reflect Indian dialects, but parallelism does (Hebraic poetry is also marked by parallelism).
Longfellow based the work loosely on tales from the Algic Researches of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, an investigation of the Ojibwe and other native groups. Schoolcraft’s degree of scholarship and accuracy have been questioned – much of ethnic anthropology did not exist yet, and Longfellow’s poem is more of a piece of American Romantic poetry than an ethnographic work. The figure of Hiawatha is based on an Ojibwe trickster, Manabozho. Longfellow claimed that Hiawatha was another name for Manabozho, but he appears to be wrong. In any event, the figure of Longfellow’s Hiawatha, whose world is Southern Canada and the Northern plains of the US (the area around Lake Superior – Hiawatha National Forest is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and the historical Hiawatha, an Iroquois chief involved in the creation of the Iroquois confederacy, is purely coincidental. Longfellow did not make use of any of the trickster qualities of Manabozho in his treatment of Hiawatha.
Longfellow referred to his poem as “this Indian Edda,” connecting the work with the Norse poems from Iceland.
Dvorak in his Symphony # 9 (“From the New World”) paid homage to the poem in the second movement.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor wrote two choral works, Scenes from the Song of Hiawatha and Death of Minnehaha.
A popular musician, Mike Oldfield has a piece on “Hiawatha” from his album, Incantations. The work is sung by Maddy Prior, formerly of the British folk-rock group, Steeleye Span.
Johnny Cash also has a song of Hiawatha on his album, Johnny Cash Sings Ballads of the True West.
There are countless parodies of Longfellow’s work. It’s pretty easy to parody. Trochaic meter is used a lot in popular song and jingles.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived, for much of his life, in a house on Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA. The house still stands, and you can visit its official site by clicking here:
It’s located about ¼ to ½ mi almost due east of Harvard Square.
03-29-2010 09:31 PM - edited 03-29-2010 09:57 PM
Haven't looked hard, but did find and play this.
(Selecting these is not repeating what I heard. Somewhere nearby you should be able to play the selection fro Hiawatha Overture. Sorry not to be more helpful.)
Consolation site: Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis in 1906
(I visited the Falls several times, but not frequently, when I lived in the area. Somehow, they did convey some of the magic of the story.)
04-05-2010 10:11 AM
This is a nice reading from Chapter 10:
It is about 10 minutes in length.