Longfellow Was A Druid

I’m convinced of it. I had never read Longfellow before now, but I’m blown away by the beauty and wildness of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline. Let me compare the opening lines of The Song of Amergin as translated by Michael R. Burch with the opening lines of Evangeline.

“I am the sea breeze
I am the ocean wave
I am the surf’s thunder
I am the stag of the seven times
I am the cliff hawk
I am the sunlit dewdrop
I am the fairest flower
I am the rampaging boar
I am the swift-swimming salmon
I am the placid lake
I am the excellence of art
I am the vale echoing voices
I am the battle-hardened spearhead
I am the God who gave you fire
Who knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen
Who understands the cycles of the moon
Who knows where the sunset settles …” 
Amergin/Burch

“This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.”
  Longfellow

Be still my heart. I so love a poet who loves nature. When I challenged myself to read a classic a month, I had no idea what I was getting into. I started Homer’s The Iliad, but that was way more than I could chew on so I moved to Longfellow, and in him I have found a friend. Interestingly, Evangeline is written in the same poetic style (dactylic hexameter for those who care about such details) as Homer. While I struggled with every line of The Iliad that I read, Evangeline flowed effortlessly for me.

If you have ever been to Cape Breton, you immediately recognize the sense of place that Longfellow writes about so beautifully.

“In the Acadian land, on the shores of the Basin of Minas,
Distant, secluded, still, the little village of Grand-Pré
Lay in the fruitful valley.  Vast meadows stretched to the
eastward,
Giving the village its name, and pasture to flocks without
number.
Dikes, that the hands of the farmers had raised with labor
incessant,
Shut out the turbulent tides; but at stated seasons the
flood-gates
Opened, and welcomed the sea to wander at will o’er the meadows.
West and south there were fields of flax, and orchards and
cornfields
Spreading afar and unfenced o’er the plain; and away to the
northward
Blomidon rose, and the forests old, and aloft on the mountains
Sea-fogs pitched their tents, and mists from the mighty Atlantic
Looked on the happy valley, but ne’er from their station
Descended.
There, in the midst of its farms, reposed the Acadian village.
Strongly built were the houses, with frames of oak and of
hemlock,
Such as the peasants of Normandy built in the reign of the
Henries.”

Henry lived a life in Academia, first as a pupil at Bowdoin College in Maine and then at Harvard, after a season of European travel. But it is clear from his writing that he spent time under the stars, by the sea and leaning against the trunks of trees, listening to leaf song.

Reading Evangeline has caused me to wonder—what makes a druid? Is it the religious path they walk, in observance of the seasons, honoring the Great Mother and The Green Man? Is it membership into an order or society? Or, is it the spiritual way in which they see the world and experience it through the eyes of the heart?

I am inclined to believe the latter. And, if not a bona fide member of the Order of Druids, I know Longfellow at least gave credence to the esteemed members of the community. See here, what he writes…

“Near to the bank of the river, o’ershadowed by oaks, from whose branches

Garlands of Spanish moss and mystic mistletoe flaunted,

Such as the Druids cut down with golden hatchets at Yule-tide.”

I followed Evangeline with The Song of Hiawatha, an epic poem written in trochaic tetrameter (also for those who care about such things). Equally as nature-focused and beautiful, it is a story near and dear to my heart because of my great love of the Lakota people, history and culture. A little research taught me that this particular poem did come from a connection with an Ojibway chief who was a friend of Longfellow’s and often a guest at his home.

I cannot find anything to suggest that Longfellow met druids in his travels around Europe but it is clear that in spite of his Congregationalist upbringing in Portland, Maine, his spiritual sense floated beyond the confines of Christian theology. If not a druid, he became the next best thing at the time- A Unitarian [tic].

Religiosity aside, Longfellow’s writing is just plain gorgeous. I learn something from every author and poet I read. From my new friend, Longfellow, I am reminded that I must tap into my druid heart more often in writing. If we are meant to write what we love to read, then I accept a term as student of Henry W. Longfellow and like-minded poets and authors of his century and ilk. It can only make modern novels and poetry more exciting, more moving and more joyous to read.

References:

  1. Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “Evangeline.” The Poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Ed. Walter J. Black. Roslyn, NY; Black’s Readers Service Company. 1982
  2. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A Maine Historical Society Web Site..https://www.hwlongfellow.org/ Copyright 2005-2012.
  3. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Bible Study Tools. https://www.biblestudytools.com/classics/strong-american-poets-and-their-theology/henry-wadsworth-longfellow.html Copyright 2020.
  4. Evangeline. Wikipedia [Online] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangeline. Last edited 1/21/20.
  5. The Song of Hiawatha. Wikipedia [Online] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_Hiawatha  Last edited 11/17/19.
  6. Burch, Michael. The HyperTexts.com [Online] http://www.thehypertexts.com/Song%20of%20Amergin%20Modern%20English%20Translation.htm

About The Author

For Heidi Hanley, reading and writing are like breathing. On her 5oth birthday, she got serious about turning her passion for writing into a goal to publish. The result is The Prophecy, Book One of the Kingdom of Uisneach series. The Runes of Evalon, the second book in the series, is due out in April. Heidi lives in New Hampshire beside the Connecticut River with her husband and a Scottish Terrier. She has enjoyed a career as a Registered Nurse, Interfaith minister and is currently serving as a Hospice chaplain. When not working, you will find her reading, sneaking away to Maine, or and in the garden with the birds and faeries.

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