Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Can you summarize Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "The Singers"?

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "The Singers" consists of seven quatrains. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter and rhymed as pairs of couplets. In other words, it has a rhyme scheme of AABB CCDD, etc. It is narrated in the third person. 

The main narrative of the poem describes God sending three singers on earth, one young, one middle-aged, and one old. Each singer is inspirational in a different way. Mortals fight over which is the best, but in the end God states that all are equally valuable in their own ways. 

This should be read in light of Longfellow himself being a Unitarian. He is arguing that God communicates to us in many different ways and through many different religious traditions. The young man with the lyre represents Apollo or pagan religion, the arts, and the inspiration of nature. The bearded man in the marketplace represents Socrates and thus philosophy. The old man in the church represents traditional Judaeo-Christian religion. Longfellow is saying that all of these are the works of God and paths to God for different people. Rather than seeing the three as in conflict with one another,

...he whose ear is tuned aright

Will hear no discord in the three,

But the most perfect harmony.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writes about Christian virtues in his poem “The Singers.” He explains that God sent his singers with messages that will touch the hearts of men.

Using a lyre as his instrument, the first singer is young and full of energy, wandering freely with youthful exuberance. His charming music speaks of living the life of your dreams.

The second singer is middle-aged as indicated by his “bearded face.” He sings in a more settled place, the marketplace. In his second stage of life, this singer brings strength.

Finally, the third singer is a wise, older man whose job it is to teach. The poem tells us that he is in a cathedral where the organ plays.

When people squabble over which singer is the most relevant, God speaks and tells them that each singer has a purpose. The youth is sent to “charm.” The middle-aged singer’s job is to “strengthen” and the third is sent to “teach.”

But the great Master said, "I see

No best in kind, but in degree;

I gave a various gift to each,

To charm, to strengthen, and to teach."

The poem alludes to singers creating perfect harmony with their voices and musical accompaniment. In the final stanza, Longfellow has God explain the importance of all three messages to create “perfect harmony.”  

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