Longfellow

Longfellow

This post is about a poets birthday, an Irish rebel, and a diving bird.

Today is the birthday of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, most famous of the New England “Fireside Poets”, born on this day in 1807.  Longfellow is best known for his (very) long lyrical/romantic verse tales such as the Song of Hiawatha and Evangeline.  They are poems that had a role in the days before the invention of TV.  They occupied a long winters night with a well told tale set to verse.

The song of Hiawatha tells the story of a fictional Ojibwe warrior named Hiawatha and his tragic love for the Dakota squaw Minnehaha.  Now here is where things get weird.  Here is a photo of the Irish rebel Eamonn DeValera taken in 1919.  He is wearing the headdress of the Ojibwe-Chippewa tribe, who made him an honorary member, in Spooner Wisconsin.

Devalera

During the rebellion the Irish leaders were referred to by nicknames.  This avoided their real names being overheard by spies.  Micheal Collins was nicknamed “The Big Fellow” and DeValera, who was tall and lanky, was nicknamed “The Long Fellow”.  Longfellow writes Hiawatha about Ojibwe warrior.  Irish rebel nicknamed Long Fellow is made an honorary Ojibwe warrior.  That is just bizarre.

DeValera survived the executions of the 1916 rebellion because he held entitlement to American citizenship from his birth in New York.  He toured the USA in 1919/1920 to raise funds for the rebellion and to secure recognition for the cause of the Irish Free State.  Post-Treaty he broke from Collins and led the IRA rebels in a doomed civil war which split the country for three generations.  He went on to found Ireland’s largest political party, served as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and as President.  The classic terrorist – rebel – freedom fighter – elderly statesman cursus honorum.

Finally we come to the diver.  Divers are a breed of bird in the British Isles that are usually called Loons in North America.  The smallest diver, the red throated, develops the signature red throat feathers during the breeding season “when ocean by the sun is kissed”.  So it is clear that the interlocutor of this Longfellow poem is a Red Throated Diver.  The poem is shorter than the great lyric beasts that Longfellow is famous for, but sits well here on “Mindship” as it touches on themes of ships lost at sea.

RedThroatDiver

The Sea Diver: by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My way is on the bright blue sea,
my sleep upon its rocking tide;
and many an eye has followed me
where billows clasp the worn seaside.

My plumage bears the crimson blush,
when ocean by the sun is kissed!
When fades the evening’s purple flush,
my dark wing cleaves the silver mist.

Full many a fathom down beneath
The bright arch of the splendid deep
My ear has heard the sea-shell breathe
O’er living myriads in their sleep.

They rested by the coral throne,
And by the pearly diadem;
Where the pale sea-grape had o’ergrown
The glorious dwellings made for them.

At night upon my storm-drench’d wing,
I poised above a helmless bark,
And soon I saw the shattered thing
Had passed away and left no mark.

And when the wind and storm were done,
a ship, that had rode out the gale,
Sunk down, without a signal-gun,
And none was left to tell the tale.

I saw the pomp of day depart–
The cloud resign its golden crown,
When to the ocean’s beating heart
The sailor’s wasted corse went down.

Peace be to those whose graves are made
Beneath the bright and silver sea!
Peace – that their relics there were laid
With no vain pride and pageantry.

 

 

 

 

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