The Song of Hiawatha "By The Shores Of Gitche Gumee"

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"By The Shores Of Gitche Gumee"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: For his epic poem of the American Indian, Longfellow combined native legends with the heroic style and the hypnotic trochaic tetrameter of the Finnish epic, the Kalevala. His "Indian Edda," Longfellow said, is based "on a tradition, prevalent among the North American Indians, of a personage of miraculous birth who was sent among them to clear their rivers, forests, and fishing-grounds, and to teach them the arts of peace. . . . The scene of the poem is among the Ojibways on the southern shore of Lake Superior. . . ." Gitche Manito, the "Master of Life," the "creator of the nations," is angry at mankind's "wrath and wrangling," and he vows to send a prophet to "guide and teach" men. Nokomis falls to earth "from the full moon" and bears a lovely daughter named Wenonah. The West-Wind mates with Wenonah, and she gives birth to Hiawatha. The West-Wind deserts her, and she dies. Hiawatha grows up in the home of his grandmother:

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.