Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“The Village Blacksmith” is an excellent example of how Longfellow, throughout his poetic career, was able to write highly accessible poetry that reflected popular American ideas and sentiments. Like his well-known “The Psalm of Life” (1839), this poem about a blacksmith ties together the need of actively doing something with the inevitability of life’s mutability—themes Longfellow would return to throughout his career.
Centering the poem around a blacksmith helped to contribute to the poem’s success and made it a mainstay recitation piece for schoolchildren in the nineteenth century. Blacksmithing, after all, was a central part of then-rural American life, necessary for the shoeing of horses—the mainstays of ordinary transportation and farmwork—and the creation and repair of ordinary farm and household implements. Readers knew the importance blacksmithing had and were ready to accept an “idealized” picture of this trade.
By idealizing a blacksmith, Longfellow was also elevating the ordinary laborer, an appealing subject for a society built around the goals of common people hoping to achieve the American Dream through hard work. Importantly, Longfellow made sure that the moral and religious character of the poem’s protagonist is above reproach. The blacksmith is not only hardworking and persistent but also honest and pious.
As ideal as the blacksmith’s life seems to be, it has also included tragedy. His loving wife is now dead, and he is a single father raising a family of considerable size. The blacksmith is not allowed to dwell on his loss, however, even though he can be shown to shed “a tear” in church. Instead, he faces life’s troubles by daily doing his job, accomplishing the small tasks that keep life ordered and worth living, reaping his reward with a good night’s sleep. Such is the “lesson” the blacksmith’s life “hast taught” every reader.