Death of Minnehaha

Longfellow’s Hiawatha – a Poetic Response

The very able article of M.D.C., in the Intelligencer, has conclusively settled the question of plagiarism brought against Mr. Longfellow by Mr. T.P.C., of Philadelphia. The facility with which a poem may be parodied is no proof against its originality, grace, or power.

The Albion, following the example of the Courier and Enquirer and New York Times, gives its opinion thus:

Should you ask our opinion
Of the song of Hiawatha
We should answer, we should tell you,
That the song of Hiawatha
Ripples, ripples, ripples, ripples,
Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles,
And with easy-flowing cadence
Courses innocent of rhyming.

If still further you should ask us,
Saying, “Who was Hiawatha?
Tell us of this Hiawatha.”
We should answer your inquiries
Straightway in such words as follow:

We are not profound admirers
Of the stalwart tragic actor,
Who in guise of Metamora
Raves of happy hunting diggings;
But we own that we should rather
Hear him tell his “simple story,”
See him play at Metamora,
Than be doomed again to wander,
‘Mid Dacotahs and Ojibways,
On the trail of Hiawatha.

Not a reader, then, will wonder
If abruptly he should hear of us Scream,
“Farewell, O Hiawatha!”

This is a very clever, but it is nothing more. There can be no question that Mr. Longfellow has succeeded perfectly, and to the admiration of the most eminent critics, in his labor and purpose, to place in appropriate poetic form the myths of our Indians of the Northwest.

In doing this, he is entitled to the suffrages of all scholars. And those who prefer a different species of poetry are at liberty to select the poetry that pleases them, whether it be Young’s Night Thoughts or Blair’s Grave. It is a matter of taste, and neither Mr. Longfellow nor his admirers will object to their selection. But let there be no bed of Procrustes erected in the Temple of the Muses.

Source

Collection: African American Newspapers
Publication: The National Era
Date: December 20, 1855
Title: Hiawatha
Location: Washington, D.C.

"Hiawatha's Friends", an illustration by Frederick Remington for the poem, 1889.

“Hiawatha’s Friends”, an illustration by Frederick Remington for the poem, 1889.

Notes

  • This was published in 1855 in The National Era, one of the publications in our African American Newspapers Collection.
  • The Song of Hiawatha is an 1855 epic poem, in trochaic tetrameter, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, featuring an Indian hero. It is loosely based on the legends and ethnography of the Ojibwe (Chippewa, Anishinaabeg) and other Native American peoples as contained in Algic Researches (1839) and additional writings by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, an ethnographer and United States Indian agent. In sentiment, scope, overall conception, and many particulars, Longfellow’s poem is very much a work of American Romantic literature, not a representation of Native American oral tradition. Longfellow insisted, “I can give chapter and verse for these legends. Their chief value is that they are Indian legends.”
  • The poem was published on November 10, 1855, and was an immediate success. In 1857, Longfellow calculated that it had sold 50,000 copies.
  • Longfellow chose to set The Song of Hiawatha at the Pictured Rocks, one of the locations along the south shore of Lake Superior favored by narrators of the Manabozho stories. The Song presents a legend of Hiawatha and his lover Minnehaha in 22 chapters (and an Introduction).
  • Read the full The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow online.

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