Study Guide

Song of Hiawatha Quotes

  • Man and the Natural World

    That he might advance his people!
    Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
    Love the sunshine of the meadow,
    Love the shadow of the forest,
    Love the wind among the branches (I.78-82)

    Longfellow specifically addresses his poem to readers who love nature and all of its beauty. This technique allows him to put the reader in a more receptive mood before moving forward with the plot. And Longfellow needed all the help he could get, since critics of his time accused him of celebrating barbarians and primitive ways of life.

    Hark you, Bear! you are a coward,
    And no Brave, as you pretended (2.50-52)

    We might think of Native Americans as people who connect with nature in deep and spiritual ways. But scenes like this one show us that the relationship is actually more complex than that. In our first glimpse of human-nature conflict, Mudjekeewis brutally taunts a bear before crushing its skull with a club. How's that for an intimate connection?

    He it is who sent the snowflakes,
    Sifting, hissing through the forest (2.155-156)

    A young man named Kabibonokka inherits the North-Wind from his father and uses it in all the ways you might expect. Without doubt, winter is the deadliest of all seasons for someone trying to live in North America. Longfellow does an especially great job of conveying this danger when he talks about the cold winter wind "hissing" through the forest.

    Learned of every bird its language,
    Learned their names and all their
    secrets (3.165-167)

    Hiawatha spends his youngest years wandering through the forest and learning the secrets of nature. He does this not by conquering, but by listening. It's a good reminder that force isn't always the best way to connect with something.

    Give me of your balm, O Fir-tree!
    Of your balsam and your resin,
    So to close the seams together (7.75-78)

    Hiawatha constantly asks the natural world for help. When he builds a canoe, he asks the trees to give him resin and sap to help him plug all the holes in the bark. Many modern folks might just hack at the trees and take what they want, but Hiawatha shows respect in everything he does.

    Till the sea-gulls came no longer,
    And upon the sands lay nothing
    But the skeleton of Nahma (8.262-264)

    Mishe-Nahma's death might be one of the most powerful scenes in this whole book. Longfellow is especially eerie about the aftermath of the death, where dozens of seagulls come to eat the fish's oily flesh and strip his corpse until there's nothing left but his rack of bones. Ew.

  • Gender

    Else you would not cry and whimper
    Like a miserable woman! (2.53-54)

    When he's killing the Great Bear of the mountains, Mudjekeewis takes a moment to taunt the bear by comparing him to a crying woman. He basically means that women are weak and emotional compared to strong and brave men.

    But you, Bear! sit here and whimper,
    And disgrace your tribe by crying,
    Like a wretched Shaugodaya,
    Like a cowardly old woman! (2.64-66)

    Mudjekeewis isn't quite finished yet. He takes another moment to remind the bear of how cowardly and womanly he's being by crying instead of fighting back. Say what you want about Longfellow, but it's pretty clear that Mudjekeewis doesn't think highly of women.

    Much he questioned old Nokomis
    Of his father Mudjekeewis;
    Learned from her the fatal secret
    Of the beauty of his mother,
    Of the falsehood of his father. (4.28-32)

    When he's old enough, Hiawatha learns the truth about how his father seduced his mother and abandoned her once she was pregnant. His mother then died of a broken heart, and Hiawatha decides that it's his manly duty to avenge his mother's death by killing his father.

    This was Hiawatha's wooing!
    Thus it was he won the daughter
    Of the ancient Arrow-maker (10.219-221).

    Hiawatha sees a beautiful young woman named Laughing Water and decides that he must possess her as a wife. The first thing he does is ask the young woman's father if he can marry the girl. It's only afterward the he asks Laughing Water herself. Truth be told, it's actually pretty progressive of Longfellow to give Laughing Water any choice in the matter at all.

    Old Nokomis, brisk and busy,
    From an ample pouch of otter,
    Filled the redstone pipes for smoking (11.49-51)

    As the highest-ranking woman, Nokomis takes on the duty of filling all the men's pipes at Hiawatha's wedding feast. It's a tiny detail, but telling when it comes to what's expected of men and women at ceremonial occasions.

    Now the men were all like women,
    Only used their tongues for weapons! (10.115-117)

    Minnehaha's father thinks sadly about how the young men of his time are becoming more and more like women, using their words to attack one another instead of their fists and clubs. It looks like the old man thinks the world would be better off with a little more violence in it. Then again, he's an arrow-maker. So he kind of has a financial interest in having more violence.

  • Violence

    Then began the deadly conflict,
    Hand to hand among the mountains (4.205-206)

    Hiawatha decides to kill his father when he finds out how Mudjekeewis abandoned his mother and left her to die. It's a classic case of son versus father, but it ends in a draw because Mudjekeewis turns out to be immortal… bummer.

    And before him, breathless, lifeless,
    Lay the youth, with hair disheveled,
    Plumage torn, and garments tattered,
    Dead he lay there in the sunset (5.270-274)

    Hiawatha kills the beautiful young demigod named Mondamin. But don't worry. This is exactly what Mondamin wanted to happen because it's the only way to improve the corn harvest (er, for some reason). Here, Longfellow is drawing on the idea that nature demands certain violent sacrifices from humanity in return for all its gifts (like food).

    Old Nokomis and the sea-gulls
    Stripped the oily flesh of Nahma,
    Till the waves washed through the
    rib-bones (8.258-261)

    How this for an image that's both violent and beautiful at the same time? Longfellow does some of his best work when he talks about seagulls eating dead flesh and waves washing through the corpse's rib-bones.

    With their clubs they beat and bruised him
    Beat to death poor Pau-Puk-Keewis (17.193-196)

    To be fair, Pau-Puk-Keewis has been running around the countryside destroying nearly everything he can get his hands on. That's why Hiawatha and his gang track down the dude and kill him. In fact, they kill him four times because PPK has the ability to jump out of his body at the last second and put his soul into any living thing that's nearby.

    Dead among the rocky ruins
    Lay the cunning Pau-Puk-Keewis (17.410-411)

    Finally, Hiawatha is able to kill Pau-Puk-Keewis as revenge for all the trouble PPK has been causing. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that the gods of thunder and lightning kill him after Hiawatha has requested their help.

    Hurled the pine-cones down upon him,
    Struck him on his brawny shoulders,
    On his crown defenceless struck him (18.120)

    Those pesky Puk-Wudjies decide one day that they're sick of getting out of the way every time the giant Kwasind goes marching through the forest. They feel like the only way to be safe is to kill the dude, so they wait in ambush and kill the guy using their secret weapons—which turn out to be, um, pinecones for some reason. Oh well, they're effective enough and they manage to kill Kwasind.

  • Family

    For himself he kept the West-Wind,
    Gave the others to his children (2.87-88)

    Mudjekeewis might be a selfish jerk, but that doesn't mean he doesn't know how to share. When he takes control of the Four Winds, he only keeps one for himself and gives the others to his three sons. Then again, this might all be about his ego anyway, because he might think of his sons as extensions of himself.

    Wooed her with his soft caresses,
    Till she bore a son in sorrow,
    Bore a son of love and sorrow (3.54-56)

    Wenonah gives in to Mudjekeewis' seductions and eventually gives birth to Hiawatha. But why does this happen "in sorrow"? It's because Mudjekeewis abandons her and she dies of heartbreak shortly after. How's that for a good dad?

    For her daughter, long and loudly
    Wailed and wept the sad Nokomis (3.65-66)

    Nokomis mourns the death of her daughter, mostly because she (Nokomis) warned Wenonah many times not to get involved with Mudjekeewis. But it's the same sad story. A mother tells her daughter not to go for a certain guy, and of course the daughter will be even more attracted to that guy than she was before.

    Much he questioned old Nokomis
    Of his father Mudjekeewis;
    Learned from her the fatal secret
    Of the beauty of his mother,
    Of the falsehood of his father (4.28-32)

    When he grows into a young man, Hiawatha asks his grandmother about what kind of guy his father is. He then finds out how his father caused his mother's death and vows revenge.

    Patiently sat Hiawatha,
    Listening to his father's boasting (4.122-123)

    You can imagine how hard it must be for Hiawatha to listen to his dad talk about being a womanizer. After all, it's this dude's womanizing ways that ultimately led to the death of Hiawatha's mother.

    Hasten back among the women,
    Back to old Nokomis, Faint-heart,
    I will slay you as you stand there,
    As of old I slew her father! (9.200-203)

    The evil magician known as Pearl-Feather isn't threatened when Hiawatha shows up to kill him. He knows full well who Hiawatha is and he assumes that the young man can do no harm. He also drops the little nugget about how he (Pearl-Feather) was apparently the killer of Hiawatha's great-grandfather—dunDUNDUN.

  • Love

    So he only gazed upon her,
    Only sat and sighed with passion
    For the maiden of the prairie (2.299-301)

    The first time he sees Minnehaha, Hiawatha falls in love and spends his free time sighing over how beautiful the young woman is. It's quite a while before he can work up the courage to approach her father and ask for her hand in marriage.

    Was it not to see the maiden,
    See the face of Laughing Water (4.320-321)

    Whenever he goes out on quests or hunting trips, Hiawatha returns home by making a detour to Minnehaha's village. All he wants to do is catch a glimpse of the woman who will one day be his wife.

    I will follow you, my husband! (10.218)

    We don't how Minnehaha will react after Hiawatha asks for her hand in marriage. But after some suspenseful moments, we find out that she loves Hiawatha just as much as he loves her. Everything seems awesome, although Longfellow will remind us later on that, sooner or later, all lovers need to be separated by death.

    Thus it is our daughters leave us,
    Those we love, and those who love us! (10.238-240)

    Minnehaha's father is sad to see her go off to get married. He knows that this is part of life, but can't help but feel sad now that he's all alone with no one to keep him company. Minnehaha was the last person in his life whom he loved, and now she's gone off with her new husband.

    Happy are you, Hiawatha,
    Having such a wife to love you! (10.305-306)

    Hiawatha and Minnehaha are so in love that even the birds in the trees can see it as the couple passes by. In this passage, we hear a bird shouting down to Hiawatha about how lucky he is to have such a loving wife. It turns out that not everyone has the same luck.

    O my children,
    Love is sunshine, hate is shadow […]
    Rule by love, O Hiawatha! (10.303-306)

    The whole world seems invested in Hiawatha's new marriage. Even the sun looks down and reminds Hiawatha to always "rule by love." What the sun means here is that Hiawatha should always rule over his family and his people with a spirit of love. That's the only way to keep peace at home and beyond.