A Legend of The Northland
By Phoebe Cary
Analysis of the poem
§ The poem ‘The Legend of Northland’ is composed by Phoebe Cary who is an American poetess.
§ This is a ballad poem. It narrates a story in short paragraphs containing four lines each. It is divided into 16 stanzas that tell us a story.
§ The story is a part of the folk culture of small region. It is the story of the Northern area, which is near North Pole. The poet doesn’t specify the exact place but ‘Northland’ means the area in the northernmost part of the earth.
§ The word ‘legend’ refers to a historical or very old story that has been orally passed from generation to generation.
§ The tone of the poem is didactic as the poet wants to teach the readers a lesson or a moral.
§ A very significant message is conveyed through the poem that we should not be selfish and greedy. We need to be helpful and sympathetic towards others.
Summary / Synopsis
· The poem opens with the scene of a beautiful place in northern part of the world where a woman was baking cakes.
· In Northland the days are short because the sun’s rays reach for very little time and during winter, the duration of the night is much longer that the people can’t sleep them through.
· The region experiences severe cold conditions as it snows most of the time there. The people, there use reindeers to pull their sledges and the children look like polar bear cubs as they wear clothes made of the fur and the skin of the bear.
· The elders tell a strange and interesting story about the young ones. However, the poet does not believe that the story is true but it gives an important message.
· The story goes like this – Saint Peter goes around the world giving spiritual lectures to the people. Once, while giving lectures, he reached the door of a cottage where a small woman was making cakes in the fireplace. Saint Peter was very hungry as he hasn’t had a meal for days and was feeling weak. So, he approaches the woman and asks for one cake out of many baked by her.
· The woman was selfish and she could not give him a cake from the store. In its place, she makes a very small cake for Saint Peter but when she places the cake for baking she thought that is too big to give away. The miser woman then again started making a smaller cake but couldn’t give any cake to Saint Peter. She felt that when she eats them they seem to be small but they seem to be too big to be given away that’s why she put all the cakes on her kitchen shelf and didn’t give any to Saint Peter.
· Saint Peter gets angry and curses the woman because she was selfish, greedy and did not deserve to live as a human being. He curses the woman to become a bird who had to build its nest and find it food by boring into the wood and to collect very little food by working the entire day.
· The woman became a woodpecker and flew through the chimney. The woman’s body became black due to fire and smoke of chimney and her red head dress remained there as the red cap of the woodpecker. The people in the countryside tell this story seeing woodpecker in the surroundings.
Away, away in the Northland – Repetition
Where the hours of the day are few – Repetition
And the nights are so long in winter – Assonance
That they cannot sleep them through – Alliteration
To the sledges, when it snows – Alliteration & Imagery
And the children look like bear's cubs – Simile & Imagery
Where they harness the swift reindeer – Imagery
In their funny, furry clothes – Imagery
In their funny, furry clothes – Alliteration
They tell them a curious story – Assonance
And yet you may learn a lesson – Alliteration
If I tell the tale to you – Alliteration
And being faint with fasting – Alliteration
To give him a single one – Assonance
And rolled and rolled it flat – Repetition
And rolled and rolled it flat – Repetition
And baked it thin as a wafer - Anaphora
you shall build as the birds do – Simile
By boring, and boring, and boring – Repetition
All day in the hard, dry wood – Consonance
Black as a coal in the flame – Simile
she lives in the trees till this very day – Assonance
she lives in the trees till this very day – Consonance
ABCB for each stanza
This folklore brings out a very significant message that we need to be helpful and sympathetic towards the poor and needy people. We should not be selfish and greedy and must not think about only our needs and desires. The poem gives a message to nurture human values of love, kindness and compassion for the entire mankind.