Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As is the case with most of Longfellow’s poems, “The Arsenal at Springfield” is rather explicit in its meaning. This antiwar poem centers on a contrast between the ravages of war and a hoped-for tranquil future of peace. Longfellow was not typically a poet who spoke out about contemporary social or political issues. He did not, for example, become a highly vocal critic of slavery, even though he was a close friend of Charles Sumner, a leading abolitionist, and although he did write a few antislavery poems. Similarly, he did not address the Civil War at length in his poetry, although this national conflict was the most significant disruption of American experience during Longfellow’s lifetime. He generally did not comment about the religious ferment of his times either.

“The Arsenal at Springfield” was written as a result of Longfellow’s visit with his wife to the Springfield arsenal in 1843, soon after his second marriage. It was this new wife, the former Francis Appleton (his first wife had died some years earlier as a result of a miscarriage), who first noted the similarity of the way the arms were stored to the pipes of an organ. Yet Longfellow, true to his tendency to use history and literature, rather than contemporary issues, as sources for poems, does not comment in the poem on recent wars or disruptions. There is no mention of the Napoleonic conflicts in Europe and their aftermaths, nor reference to American conflicts for...

(The entire section is 575 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

The theme that is most obvious in the poem from the beginning is war. Humans have been in countless wars in their history,...

(The entire section is 560 words.)