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Group reads > The Song of Hiawatha - February 2015 (spoilers)

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message 1: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
The Song of Hiawatha  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A novella length poem. Something different for the group - just to mix things up.

message 2: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) It has been an interesting change. I'm only halfway through so far. I have been reading some chapters out loud to the kids, and they have really liked some parts and wandered off during others. We've decided that so far chapter 5, 'Hiawatha's Fasting', is our favorite.
The repetitions are quite fetching, lol, and the idea that he was trying to serve his people better was well done. Then each animal he encountered became a symbol of food for his people, but a source that could be fickle. And then as we read about the struggle with the yellow haired man, we felt it was a riddle we couldn't quite figure out. It unfolded so wonderfully that we only figured it out just as Hiawatha worked over the man's grave and we suddenly saw the connection between the grave and the garden. Which I will be considering for a long time yet.

message 3: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Lora wrote: "It has been an interesting change. I'm only halfway through so far. I have been reading some chapters out loud to the kids, and they have really liked some parts and wandered off during others. We'..."

I'm about a third of the way through. I got lost in other books, but I'm going to start this up again even if only a chapter a day to savor and contemplate.

message 4: by Tasha (new)

Tasha Mann | 4 comments Hello, my name is Tasha. I've just joined this group today. It looks like a place I can hang out and talk over some literature with everyone.

As a Seneca woman, I'm excited to see that you are reading a book with ties to Iroquois. I would like to point out that this story twists the real story of Anyonwatha to the point that it is unrecognizable to my people. I find that quite a shame, really.

I am interested in your thoughts on this work, though. So, let's talk!

message 5: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments I have The Song of Hiawatha on my library list, but it will be several days before I begin it.

message 6: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Tasha, so good to hear from you. I've been enjoying this poem with my kids, and we looked up the wiki article about it. It had several corrections from true Iroquois legends included so that the reader could see the differences- have you seen that?
Personally, I enjoy the story, knowing that it is not the actual Indian way. This is on academic levels, I want you to know. I like the repetitions and descriptions. But at the same time, I sort of feel this little itch in the back of my mind: what would this feel like coming from the actual source? Is there a place online you can point me to? I would love to tell my kids all about that.
We had quite a discussion about this very issue here at home. We're quite familiar with various versions of the Greek myths, for instance. And when I read The Red Tent, I was at first pleased, then grew irritated, then lost all respect for the book. Why? because as far as I was concerned, the author totally read the story of Joseph of Egypt wrong. And I'm not even Jewish. But the feeling was a strong one, because I had invested heavily in the Bible. The Bible runs deep in the streams of my mind. Based on that, I can understand how you would see the Song of Hiawatha as fictional lit, misleading, and possibly insulting.
Do you think that Longfellow changed things to make it more accessible to his white audience? I think there would be much the average white (especially back then) would not know about the culture of the Iroquois and others. Do you think he might have played fast and loose because he was using poetic license to combine elements because, after all, he ran on for nearly two hundred pages? My kids asked me these kinds of questions and I could only take wild guesses. Your being in the discussion opens up some great opportunities. Inquiring minds want to know. :)
Also, rather than overwhelm you with requests for info on the many changes in a huge body of work, maybe you could focus on the 5th chapter, his fasting chapter, just because that has been my favorite so far. Or, if there is something that particularly irks you, that would be good to hear as well.

And in general, I want to say this:
I suspect one of the reasons I'm liking this is because we read so much 20th century lit in the novella group. This is a nice change, especially for me because I tend to read old stuff. And the poetic feel is a nice change too; that 20th century stuff is so... so...modern. There. I said it. ;)

message 7: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments I actually took 2 editions out from the library. An Everyman's library paperback because it had a vocabulary/definition appendix and introduction. And the Library of America Longfellow Poems and Other Writings - the type is easier to read, and it has a ribbon! I'm ready to start reading it.

message 8: by Tasha (new)

Tasha Mann | 4 comments Lora, tomorrow when I'm not on my kindle, I'll tell you everything wrong about "The Song of Hiawatha."

message 9: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Mmars, if you can, even if alone, read some of it out loud. It gains something that way.

message 10: by Tasha (new)

Tasha Mann | 4 comments Ok, here are my thoughts on the Song of Hiawatha.
First, let me say this. There is great beauty to Longworth’s work. It is engaging. The sounds of the words are song-like and has a definite appeal. It’s easy on the ears and, as many people have already pointed out, wonderful to hear read aloud. By those things alone, it is worth reading.
But I’m here to talk about the actual story. It is not a proper telling of the Great Law of Peace, the Kaianeraserakowa. Longfellow tells it as if Ayonwatha is the hero and that he is the Peacemaker. However, the Peacemaker and Ayonwatha are two separate people. Longfellow simply never mentions Jingosaseh. To understand the Great Law of Peace, you need to know that the Constitution was hammered out by the Peacemaker and Jingosaseh. And furthermore, it was Jingosaseh who made the peace happen, not the Peacemaker and not Ayonwatha.
I will give you a very short version of the Great Law of Peace. A full telling by a faithkeeper would go on for three days, easily. I’m pretty certain none of you want me to talk your ear off for that long and moreover, I am not a faithkeeper. I’m not even an elder. I will tell you as I myself was told.
There was a time when there was a great war. There were two camps: the Corn Way and the Cannibal Way. Now, first let me tell you this clearly so you will get all the visions of the Walking Dead out of your mind. The Cannibal Way did not mean that everyone in that camp was out eating people; they kept to an older way were men were ruled. The leader was called Adodaroh and he was insane and he was known to eat people. He terrified his people. Honestly, would you want to cross a person in power like that?
Now, the Peacemaker wanted to consolidate the people and unite them under one constitution. He was a bit hazy on how this new law would work. So he went to Jingosaseh. She was an influential woman of her own right. Once the Peacemaker proved his intentions and impressed upon Jingosaseh that he was serious, they sat down and put together our Constitution, the Kaianeraserakowa. The US Constitution is based on our constitution, except the part about how women retained power. It is the Grandmothers who wield the most power among the Iroquois. Here, too, I won’t go into too much detail.
Jingosaseh and the Peacemaker agreed that the war needed to end with the instating of the Constitution. The Corn Way people agreed to the constitution but they knew that Adodaroh’s camp would reject it. They needed, Jingosaseh and the Peacemaker agreed, someone in Adodaroh’s camp to convince his people to accept this new way of life.
Ayonwatha was the person they drafted for this position. He was Adodaroh’s right hand man. He had lost all his daughters and his wife to this war and he was ready to end it. He agreed. And he succeeded. He brought forth Adodaroh’s camp. The Peacemaker then called everyone together and created a ceremony, the first Condolence Ceremony. He knew the peace would not be kept if the ravages of war was still keeping the people in a state of constant grief. I won’t go into the ceremony either.
This is enough for now. I will pop in later and point out things in Longfellow’s work that are made up. I hope knowing some of this will help you understand some of my problems with the poem.

message 11: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Hudson | 9 comments I've just begun this (I read the introduction while on the metro - not really the place to be chanting out loud!) and I echo the comments on its musicality. It's not had to see why it became such a long-lasting favourite.

A little research online informed me that there was, shall we say, a "creative" approach taken to the original myths; however, while Tasha's post there is interesting, I'm going to hold off on reading any more until I've finished the actual text in its own right.

The flawed "historicity" (or whatever the equivalent term ought to be) of Longfellow's narrative is a fact, but I don't think it's one that demands to be held in mind during the read. I'd rather be able to take it in for what it is and then look at the wider context after that.

message 12: by Tasha (new)

Tasha Mann | 4 comments A good idea Andrew. :)

message 13: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Aw, I bet you'd enchant lots of people on the metro by reading that out loud!

I'm curious about the differences between Longfellow and the actual stories, but yes, this is a really great read aloud. I've got two teens willingly listening to much of it, so it definitely has its merits.

message 14: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Thanks, Tasha. That also gives me a clearer sense of how important the story is in Indian culture.
What I love is taking three days to tell a story. That is a culture with a different sense of time, and priorities that weren't so scheduled. I like that.

message 15: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments So appreciate your input Tasha! I had already decided Longfellow's interpretations of Native American lore must be taken with a grain of salt. Even the most well-meaning white man in Longfellow's time would not have understood, much less have properly sourced, such stories.

I am, however, interested in the work, because of a familiarity with the names. Even the first section about the red pipestone. I visited the Pipestone State Park about 20 years ago and the tour seemed very respectful toward pipestone's role in Native American culture.

message 16: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,

I've heard those lines all my life. I always thought they were the beginning of the poem. But they're not; they're in the third chapter.

I've never read Longfellow before. I'm not an aficionado of poetry; of poetry I'm woefully ignorant. This poem, The Song of Hiawatha, is as good as anything I've read, though. The rhythm, the cadence, is very pleasing. I'm enjoying it immensely, reading and hearing it simultaneously. I'm sure to read more Longfellow.

message 17: by Ivan (last edited Feb 07, 2015 11:20AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Buck wrote: "By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,

I've heard those lines all my life. I always thought they were the beginning of the poem. But they're ..."

I always thought so too - Buck. Isn't that funny. I think it's because it's the most famous line from the poem. As for Longfellow I just love some of his shorter poems. I read this at my mother's funeral:

The Reaper And The Flowers

There is a Reaper, whose name is Death,
And, with his sickle keen,
He reaps the bearded grain at a breath,
And the flowers that grow between.

"Shall I have naught that is fair?" Saith he;
"Having naught but the bearded grain?
Though the breath of these flowers is sweet to me,
I will give them all back again,"

He gazed at the flowers with tearful eye,
He kissed their drooping leaves;
It was for the Lord of Paradise
He bound them in his sheaves.

"My Lord has need of these flowerets gay,"
The Reaper said, and smiled:
"Dear tokens of the earth are they,
Where he was once a child."

"They shall all bloom in fields of light,
Transplanted by my care,
And saints, upon their garments white,
These sacred blossoms wear."

And the mother gave, in tears and pain,
The flowers she most did love:
She knew she should find them all again
In the fields of light above.

O, not in cruelty, not in wrath,
The Reaper came that day;
'Twas an angel visited the green earth,
And took the flowers away.

message 18: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I'm going to start reading this aloud tomorrow. I like that idea.

message 19: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) "Imperious man, feeble woman" doesn't sound like the Indians I've heard about. I read that a week ago at least, and it still bugs me. Victorian malarkey, sheesh.
I do love that Hiawatha consistently goes into solitude, in nature, to ponder and seek insight and wisdom. I totally send my kids out into the woods when they can't decide about something close to their heart, so I'm there.

message 20: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) " 'Twas an afternoon in Summer;
Very hot and still the air was,
Very smooth the gliding river,
Motionless the sleeping shadows:
Insects glistened in the sunshine,
Insects skated on the water,
Filled the drowsy air with buzzing,
With a far resounding war-cry."

Longfellow really had a way of capturing these moments. It made me forget our below-frigid weather here, for a few moments anyway.

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

From my review of the book (2 stars):

I read over half the poem and to be honest, I really enjoyed most of what I read. My main issue with the poem and the reason why I rated it so low is that the meter became so irritating after reading for so long. The story itself was really entertaining and it contained some beautiful imagery. I enjoyed learning more about the tale (even if it's not the REAL tale of Hiawatha). I just couldn't continue to read in the same cadence any longer.

message 22: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) That may have affected me as well. It's sometimes like trying to walk on railroad tracks while humming to yourself.

message 23: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Oh, thank God, I thought it was just me.

message 24: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments I like the cadence. That's what made it.

message 25: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) I think it worked for me for pages at a time, but then it seemed to make me lose my balance somehow.

message 26: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Or, perhaps, simply made me more aware of being off balance, lol!

message 27: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments I admit to everyone that I have dropped the ball on this. It's odd, but I too, have problems with cadence and rhyme. Though I admire a poet's ability to do that!

That said, I may still pick it up, but doubt I'll read the whole thing.

Also, I'm preoccupied with some stuff going on in my life right now and I've actually been reading longer books for distraction.

message 28: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I'm reading a Sherman Alexie novel now - an indigenous American.

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