Poets And Poetry

The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow a Dedication to the Common Man



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The Village Blacksmith” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow represents a characterization of a common working man of the time period. Longfellow, known for his depictions of legends, uses the device of the 1841 poem to honor a decent hardworking common man.

The opening stanza places the blacksmith under the spreading chestnut tree and informally refers to the blacksmith in the friendly term of “smithy”. This establishes early on that Longfellow regarded the blacksmith highly.

Longfellow then provides physical description of the blacksmith in stanzas one and two. He is a mighty man, with large sinewy hands, and brawny arms. These would be part of the profession, as being a blacksmith would require great strength. He has crisp or curly black long hair and a tan face. Longfellow uses a simile to compare his brawny arms to iron bands. Iron bands would have the connotation of something that can resist tremendous force.

In stanzas 2-3 Longfellow establishes the character of the blacksmith. His brow is described as wet with honest sweat and he earns what he can. It shows that the blacksmith works hard for his money on his own back and does not earn his money off the work of others. He “looks the whole world in the face” is reflective that he is honest. If a person can look anyone in the eye, he can tell them the truth. It also illustrates confidence. Longfellow portrays the blacksmith as consistent and dependable. He is described as working week in, week out from morn until night.

In stanzas 4, 5, and 6 are devoted to establishing the blacksmith as a family man and loved man in his community. Children stop on their way home from school to hear the bellows and watch the flames of the forge. He goes to church on Sunday and sits in the pew with his sons. He listens to his daughter sing in the church choir with pride.  This is where we learn about the death of the blacksmith’s wife. Longfellow uses a simile to compare the voice of the daughter to her mother’s voice singing in Paradise. This would indicate she is in heaven and is reinforced with the contrasting image of a tear wiped from his eye. This is a paradox to the hardened image that is portrayed early in the poem.

In the final two stanzas, Longfellow concentrates on the lesson he learns from the example of the blacksmith. Longfellow believes that if a man is mean to earn a way to heaven by conduct on earth, then the blacksmith has set the example for all human kind. In the final stanza, he thanks the blacksmith for the lesson. He is reminded about how he should conduct his own life. He should live by the example of the blacksmith.

Longfellow writes the poem with eight stanzas. The rhyme scheme varies in the stanzas. In stanza 1, the rhyme scheme is ABACDC. In stanza 2, the rhyme scheme is ABCBDB. It varies slightly in each stanza.

In addition to end rhyme, Longfellow also uses the sound devices of alliteration and assonance. Examples of alliteration include “mighty man” and “smithy stands” in stanza 1, “hear his” and “hear him” and “his heavy” in stanza 2, and “flaming forge” in stanza 4.

Assonance is evident in stanza 2 with the repetition of words with the “o” sound with words looks, whole, world, for, owes, not which create a sense of saying “Oh” which would be like a sigh of awe for the character of the blacksmith.

While not telling the entire story of the blacksmith, “The Village Blacksmith” is a narrative poem that depicts an honorable common citizen of the young country the United States of America. It reflects with pride the common ordinary man who built the country both through work and through character. The blacksmith represented the best of this country and set the example for generations to come of what an honorable man should be.

 

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