The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith” emphasizes how the life and work of a common working man can provide an example of persistence and accomplishment in spite of trials and tragedies. The poem is developed in eight stanzas of six ballad-like lines of alternating iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter.

The poem begins by picturing the site of blacksmith’s workplace as “Under a spreading chestnut-tree,” then specifically describes the smith himself as a man made strong by his work: “mighty,” with “brawny armsstrong as iron bands.” The smith’s physical appearance continues to be the focus in stanza 2. He wears his black hair “long.” He is “tan” from working outside in the sun. More important, however, his character can now be revealed. He is “honest,” willing to do any type of work, and “owes not any man.”

The third stanza centers on how important the smith’s work is to village society. All year long, people can “hear” the “bellows blow” and the regular beat of “his heavy sledge.” The sounding rhythms of his workplace are as central to the villagers as the tolling of the church bell when the “evening sun is low.” In stanza 4, even children realize the significance of the blacksmith as they stop to watch the smith work on their way “home from school” and enjoy the excitement of “the flaming forge,” the roaring bellows, and the “burning sparks.”

The poem moves away from the blacksmith’s workplace to the town church in the fifth stanza. With his children, the widowed smith listens to the “parson pray and preach” and to “his daughter’s voice,/ Singing in the village choir.” Although the service “makes his heart rejoice,” in stanza 6 the sound of his daughter’s singing reminds him of his wife’s “voice,/ Singing in Paradise,” her death, and the “grave,” which cause him to shed a tear because of life’s trials.

Stanzas 7 and 8 summarize the message of the blacksmith’s example. His life is a mixture of ordinary human experience: “Toiling,—rejoicing,—sorrowing.” Yet he persists, regardless, accomplishing something every day, thus deserving “a night’s repose.” Just as the blacksmith’s life has been shaped by meeting and facing life events, so each person must be willing to continue on with life formed “at the flaming forge” with “Each burning deed and thought” shaped at the “sounding anvil.”