Hiawatha’s Camera

Unidentified field camera, c.1890s
(Click image for more information)

As one of the children who loved to hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, I relished my early immersion into the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 

One of the so-called Fireside poets — a group which included William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell —  Longfellow entranced my classmates and me with his rhythmic and rhyming version of our nation’s history. If he trimmed, re-stitched, and embroidered that history from time to time, the broad outlines were there, together with vivid scenes we never experienced but heard echoing in stories told by parents and grandparents; we enjoyed it all.

Longfellow often wrote especially for children, but he also included them in works written more directly for adults. We envied the school children who populated his poems, wishing we could have experienced such marvelous sights as those recounted in The Village Blacksmith:

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge
And hear the bellows roar,
And watch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

In time, “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” gave voice to my fascination with the sea, and, somewhat obliquely, “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie” became responsible for the beginning of my blog.  But in my youth, Longfellow’s most popular and long-enduring poem, “The Song of Hiawatha” seemed to be everywhere.

Shortly after his marriage to Mary Potter in 1831, Longfellow journeyed to Europe and Scandinavia, where he encountered the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala.  Compiled by Elias Lönnrot from an extensive Finnish oral tradition that included ballads, lyrical songs, and incantations, the material was published in two editions; the original 32 cantos (1835) later were enlarged into 50 cantos (1849), and this later edition usually is meant when Finns refer to the Kalevala.

Kalevala, the dwelling place of the epic’s chief characters, is a poetic name for Finland which means ‘land of heroes.’ On the website of the Kalevala Society, a useful note about the nature of the epic is offered as introduction:

The world of the Kalevala is mythical – not historical. Therefore, its stories cannot be connected to actual places or events. Essentially, it lives in the realm of the mind’s eye. Lauri Honko, a Finnish scholar of the Kalevala, writes: ‘Many of the stories and their details become easier to understand if we do not try to force them onto the level of historical time and everyday experiences but try to listen to the voice of myth as it speaks to the man who conceives time as mythical.’

Written in unrhymed octosyllabic trochees and dactyls (known as the Kalevala metre), the epic is characterized by alliteration, parallelism, and repetition. Longfellow found the style congenial, and its use in”The Song of Hiawatha” directly reflects the influence of the Kalevala.

This section, perhaps one of the best known portions of Longfellow’s poem, may have been memorized by thousands of grade-school aged children:

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

Of course, anyone who grew up in the 1950s — especially in midwestern states — remembers the Hamm’s Beer Company parody of “The Song of Hiawatha.” One of the most famous commercials ever produced, it borrowed its melody from Victor Herbert’s 1911 opera Natoma and paired the music with rhymed couplets similar to those in Longfellow’s poem. 

Once heard, the jingle wasn’t easily forgotten. Even today, the percussive beat of its drumming brings it back in an instant, although many viewers would have been surprised to know the memorable beat of the tom-tom in the commercial wasn’t Native American. Minneapolis advertising legend Ray Mithun, who helped found the Campbell-Mithun agency with $1,500 and three clients, based it on recordings of Haitian voodoo drumming, and beat out the rhythm on an empty carton of Star-Kist tuna cans.

By the time the Hamm’s commercial arrived on the scene, a multitude of Hiawatha parodies had been published, including one written by the Reverend George A. Strong (1832-1912) under the pseudonym of ‘Marc Antony Henderson’ in 1856: one year after the publication of Longfellow’s poem.

Titled “The Song of Milkanwatha: Translated from the Original Feejee” and said to have been published by a company puckishly named ‘Tickell and Grinne,’ the parody imitated Hiawatha chapter by chapter. Over time, variations began to appear.  A much-anthologised, self-contained verse sometimes attributed to Strong and sometimes to ‘Anonymous’ appeared in Mrs. Scott Saxton’sThe Newest Elocution Textbook, published in Denver, Colorado, in 1893. Found in a section titled “Gymnastics in Articulation,” it had been given the title, “Skin Side Inside, or The Modern Hiawatha.”  The version endured at least until I reached second grade; our teacher read us the verse as we dried our snow-caked mittens on the radiators:

He killed the noble Mudjokivis.
Of the skin he made him mittens,
Made them with the fur side inside,
Made them with the skin side outside.
He, to get the warm side inside,
Put the inside skin side outside;
He to get the cold side outside
Put the warm side fur side inside.
That’s why he put the fur side inside,
Why he put the skin side outside,
Why he turned them inside outside.

Never one to allow an opportunity for parody to pass by, Lewis Carroll created his own version of Longfellow’s poem, calling it “Hiawatha’s Photographing.” In his introduction, Carroll begins the fun early; his use of Longfellow’s meter becomes obvious only when the paragraph is restructured:

In an age of imitation,
I can claim no special merit
for this slight attempt at doing
what is known to be so easy.
Any fairly practised writer,
with the slightest ear for rhythm,
could compose, for hours together,
in the easy running metre of “The Song of Hiawatha.”
Having then distinctly stated that I challenge no attention
in the following little poem to its merely verbal jingle,
I must beg the candid reader to confine his criticism
to its treatment of the subject.

In fact, Carroll was quite a camera buff himself, and he filled his parody with amusing details related to cameras, unwilling subjects, the pains of portraiture, and film development — all in a perfect and wonderful imitation of Longfellow’s “Hiawatha.”

From his shoulder Hiawatha
Took the camera of rosewood,
Made of sliding, folding rosewood;
Neatly put it all together.
In its case it lay compactly,
Folded into nearly nothing;
But he opened out the hinges,
Pushed and pulled the joints and hinges,
Till it looked all squares and oblongs,
Like a complicated figure
In the Second Book of Euclid.
This he perched upon a tripod –
Crouched beneath its dusky cover –
Stretched his hand, enforcing silence –
Said “Be motionless, I beg you!”
Mystic, awful was the process.

The entire, hilarious, improbable version of “Hiawatha’s Photographing” can be found here.  Whether you enjoy 19th century poetry, photography, or the humor of parody, it’s well worth a read — preferably aloud, and preferably with an audience, just as Longfellow and Carroll would have wanted.

The Hamm’s is optional.

Comments always are welcome.

112 thoughts on “Hiawatha’s Camera

  1. I am pleased beyond my wildest expectation your mentioning of the National Finnish epic, the Kalevala. The people of Finland and its land is Kalevala. Much of Finnish design, art, architecture, fashion, jewellery is based on the Kalevala.

    Before arriving in Finland in1965 I knew nothing much about Finland except Helvi. Finland was the forgotten corner of Europe. But was I in for a surprise. I could not believe how much beauty was around and not just the beauty of their forests, sixty thousands lakes, and the birch and spruce, but the man made beauty.

    Its glass ware, ceramics, the phenomenal architecture of Alvar Aalto. And not least the music of J P Sibelius. You would be hard put to find man made ugliness.

    I am wildly enthusiastic about Finland and its national survival against the odds of being dominated and governed through the ages by both Sweden and Russia.

    I will stop now and put on ‘Finlandia.’

    Great post, Linda. The best ever. Kiitos.

    1. Until I wrote this post, Gerard, I knew very little about the Kalevala: its history, or its influence. I knew that it existed, and that it had influenced Sibelius, but that was about it. Now, I’ve listened to the Lemminkäinen Suite, sometimes performed under the title Four Pieces from the Kalevala, and found it wonderful.

      Of course I thought of you and Helvi when I was writing this; there was no question in my mind that you knew the epic. You mentioned the influence, political and otherwise, of Russia and Sweden. I found it interesting that Sibelius’s parents enrolled him in the first Finnish-language grammar school; until its establishment, Swedish and Latin had been the languages of the schools, but Sibelius’s exposure to the Finnish language eventually led him to the Kalevala.

      I’m so happy to have offered you a pleasing post, and inspired you to listen to Finlandia again — I’ll accept your thanks, and say, “Ole hyvä.”

        1. I suspect this will please you, too. I rose to find a comment this morning from Petja Kauppi, of the Kalevala Society. I thought I’d add it here, so you don’t have to go searching for it.

          “Greetings from Helsinki, behind my desk at the Kalevala Society! I’m very happy to hear that you have found our introduction to Kalevala useful. And thank you for this fun piece about Hiawatha and the parodies.”

          This is another reminder of why blogging can be so much fun.

    1. Thank you so much, Derrick. You might be interested to know that the illustrations used in the version of “Hiawatha Photographing” that I chose are from the work of A.B. Frost, who also was part of the group selected to illustrate the “Household Edition” of Dickens’s works.

    1. It’s fascinating, and I’m sure you’d enjoy it. The Kalevala Society has this fine introductory page that would be a good place to start. It offers an overview of the setting, characters, and so forth. The article about the ‘singers’ is especially intriguing.

  2. Great post. I love the parodies.
    But what I love most is the rhythm. So much modern poetry has no rhythm, and, to me, that is what makes a poem, as much as, if not more than, rhyme. No rhythm and it’s just prose broken into lines.
    Sorry about that, but it’s one the things that irritate me. Rant over.

    I, too, have not come across the Kalevala. I will go and look it up now.

    And Finlandia is awesome, Gerard OOsterman. I first heard it, aged 15, in the Royal Albert Hall in London when I went to one of the Prom Concerts.

    1. I’ll suggest the same site to you that I just mentioned to the previous commenter: this introductory page from the Finnish Kalevala Society. Some of the sites I landed on initially were either poorly organized or too general to be helpful, but I enjoyed that one. Having a resource to return to in order to sort out the Kalevala’s characters is useful, too.

      I smiled at your comment about the rhythm of poetry. While many of my favorite poems aren’t as strongly rhythmic as these, I agree completely that simply pulling a paragraph of prose into separate lines doesn’t create a poem. The transition from spoken poetry to written poetry probably has played a role. Arranging words on a page for the sake of the eye is one thing, but many of those modernist poems don’t read aloud very well.

      I didn’t learn about the Proms until a couple of decades ago. It must have been wonderful to be there — and what a concert to experience.

        1. How delightful it was to find your comment this morning. Thank you for the work that you do, and thank you for the resources you’ve provided for those of us who have begun to learn more about your national epic. Best wishes to you.

  3. Oh, this was a fun post!! Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I recall that commercial. So many things we seem to forget until someone like you helps to bring good memories back to life. What a great group of poems too.

    1. That commercial’s stayed with me thanks to football, GP. My dad was a great Green Bay Packers fan, and I’d often watch their games with him. I don’t remember much about the games, but I remember that music, and the Hamm’s bear; I adored him. No Hamm’s came into our house, though. As I recall, Dad drank Pabst Blue Ribbon — at least he did until Coors showed up in Iowa.

      1. There are many people who overemphasize the present, but ignore the past which shaped our identity and contains precious memories which bring joy to the present as we grow older. Thank you for your kind comment, my friend!

  4. I didn’t know about the parody, either. Too funny. In school, I had to memorize some of “The Village Blacksmith.” So long ago that the only thing I remember is the arms as strong as iron bands.

    1. One of the things I always loved was reciting some of these poems with my mom. She had to memorize them in school, too, and many of them stayed with her. When one of us forgot a line, the other one often could supply it.

      I didn’t know about “Hiawatha’s Photographing” until I remembered the “skin side inside” parody, and went looking for the complete text. That’s when I came across Lewis Carroll’s version, and laughed my way through the whole thing: not only about the details of the camera itself, but also the trials and tribulations of photographing people with that quite different technology.

  5. I always learn so much from your essays. I don’t remember ever studying/reading Longfellow in school or seeing that beer commercial. The latter might be because we didn’t get a TV until the late ’50s.

    1. I can’t find it now, but one site I read said that Hamm’s wasn’t available in Michigan in the 1950s, although it’s sold there now. That could be another reason you don’t remember the commercial. If they weren’t selling the product in your area, there’d be no reason to advertise.

      Maybe they weren’t selling Longfellow in your school system, either. That does surprise me, though. We’re close enough in age that I would have expected his work to still be part of the curriculum. But states set their own curriculum in those days, at least to some degree, so that may explain it. I do know that many of the classes we were required to take aren’t offered here now: frivolous courses like geography, civics, government, and world history. Ah, well.

  6. My reaction to your Hiawatha’s Camera post is far different from others’ reaction:

    I was working for a fashion company in the early 70’s as a fashion merchandiser and buyer, and not loving the travel. My boss called a meeting and asked if anyone knew how to use a “view camera,” not dissimilar from the field camera in your post. I came forward and declared that I was proficient with a view camera. He told me to report to the advertising department after lunch.
    At lunch I went to the local downtown library to quickly research how to load sheet film into a view camera!
    After lunch I reported to advertising and took a bunch of product shots as a test. They loved them, transferred me to the ad department as the official “company photographer,” and that turned into a nearly 50-year career as a professional photographer…all due to a chance gamble at being able to use a camera much like the one in your picture.
    Your Carroll parody on cameras is an obscure poem I had not seen, but is really fun.
    Thanks for posting, Linda.

    1. I knew someone would relate to the camera image as well as the poem, and here you are. Your story’s wonderful — serendipity combined with a brash willingness to seize an unexpected opportunity. The thought that crossed my mind was, “Experience? We don’t need no stinkin’ experience!” Some might call that film Blazing Chutzpah, but it surely did work out for you. A little impulsivity and an occasional leap into the unknown can work out just fine, as long as we’re willing to roll with the punches when it doesn’t.

      I thought Carroll’s parody was terrific. It’s not only filled with details that would appeal to people who know a little history of photography, it captures some of the trials and tribulations of family photography, too.

  7. So much about this post to love, Linda. My late dad used to quote from The Village Blacksmith (something about those large and sinewy hands), and I haven’t recalled that in years. I remember reading “Hiawatha” as a child (but not memorizing it — do kids memorize anything these days??), and I got a kick out of the Hamm’s commercial. How advertising has changed!! The black-and-white is obvious, but look how long this ad lasted — of course, costs then weren’t what they are today. And speaking of today, I doubt advertisers could get away with something like this — somebody somewhere would claim it’s offensive to somebody and have it pulled immediately.

    1. I know some home-schooled kids who memorize, but whether it’s a part of public school classes, I don’t know. Of course, some still goes on in drama classes and such; I hope it doesn’t get lost. For one thing, all of those poems we memorized as kids and then forgot often come back in later years — sort of like old friends we haven’t seen for a while, but that suddenly show up on our doorstep.

      Apparently the Hamm’s bear and his friends still are around. I found this commercial from 2014 — only five years ago. The bear hasn’t aged, although his antics are a little more modern — but the musical background is the same. Some things do endure, apparently.

  8. Longfellow’s poetry was so popular that once a year everyone had to memorize a poem for school. (Dad’s one room school house apparently roared and echoed from the choruses of those verses. My group found those easy to learn for the assignment)
    I had forgotten the parodies – and didn’t know about Carroll’s – whether “fine, sophisticated, elevated literature” or not, Longfellow certainly enriched many lives – and inspired much thought and creativity – what is literature good for?

    1. It occurred to me this morning that Longfellow might have remained popular for so long partly because so many of us were introduced to his poetry when still very young: even before school. I suspect you probably knew A Child’s Garden of Verses, too. What kid wouldn’t like a poet who could come up with poems like “Bed in Summer”?

      Those one-room schools had a lot of advantages. I’ve read that one involved memorization. By the time the younger kids reached the point that it was time for them to memorize a longer poem, they’d already heard so many classes ahead of them working with it that they had it half-memorized.

      That “skin side outside”parody brings back so many sensory memories: snow balled up on woolen mittens, the smell of wet wool drying on radiators, the mitten clips that were on a string long enough to go all the way through our coats so we wouldn’t lose the things. Of course we lost them anyway; creativity can take many forms.

  9. My brother illustrated that poem in school and I remember the little book it made. I did not know it was so widely parodied (though I do remember the Hamm’s commercial and it came to mind immediately) or that Longfellow might have got the idea of doing histories in poem from the Kalevala. I bet there are people who only know about the expulsion of the Acadians from Evangeline (though I doubt it’s still taught) or that Cajun derives from Acadian. Thanks for the time travel!

    1. What’s interesting about parodies is that they’re most amusing to people who are familiar with the original. One article I read mentioned that Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey parodied the style of The Mysteries of Udolpho, written by Ann Radcliffe in 1794. Since I missed out on Radcliffe’s novel, that may help to explain why Northanger Abbey never appealed to me. “The Song of Hiawatha” was so immensely popular it probably was inevitable that parodies would come — especially with that easily imitated rhythm.

      “Evangeline” is my favorite of Longfellow’s poems, for a variety of reasons. It ended up taking me to Acadiana, and I still have a number of posts that need to be completed about my time there. The history, music, and contemporary culture is fascinating — it’s one of my favorite places to visit.

  10. What a lovely post, Linda. We used to smuggle Hamms from Illinois to Michigan before it was distributed there. Not sure it was because of the taste or just the thrill of it all. I always liked Longfellow and have to say, did not get to the parodies while in school. What a treat.

    1. Your career as a Hamms-runner adds an extra bit of humor to your Prohibition post, John. There was a time during my college years when the ‘thing’ was making a run to Colorado for Coors, and then bringing it back to eastern Iowa. For sheer oddness, there was the butter-running between Iowa and Minnesota. One of my friends remembers making those trips across the line with her dad to pick up butter in an Iowa border town.

      Did you ever read the cat carols that were part of my Christmas celebrations with Dixie Rose? It may not be too early to start putting together some dog carols for next year. Everyone would like them (or so I imagine) and having a post ready for December certainly does simplify life during the holidays. I can only imagine what the girls could come up with.

      1. I just read the post, Linda. What a hoot. I think it would be a good idea to have dog durges for the holidays. I’ve put this in my to do category. At one time I used to fly to Denver quite often. I lived in Illinois (Chicago area). I would also smuggle Coors. I tell ya, nothing like offering a Coors at a party. (1967) Eye popping I would say. Thanks for the idea.

  11. This was delightful. I recall in high school we had to memorize the final stanza of Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant. Those words are still with me and have much more meaning now.

    1. It’s been years since I read that poem, and it’s the first stanza that’s stayed with me. As you say, age and experience affect our reading of any piece of literature, and that last stanza certainly is more piercing now than it was for much younger me. In fact, There’s much in the poem I didn’t remember; thanks for reminding me of it.

  12. I’ve never seen the Hamm’s beer commercial and it is priceless. I was never forced to learn to recite Hiawatha [read it of course], but have been to Minneapolis which seems like a city with Hiawatha-type street names at every turn. So interesting to experience history from an adult point of view.

    1. Those commercials went on for years and years. The most recent ones I found were from 2014 and 2015, and the bear is still just as cute (and klutzy). I’ve been to Minneapolis/St. Paul a couple of times, but we used to vacation farther north in the state when I was a kid. Of course I had the obligatory beaded moccasins, and the little tom-tom — as well as a feather headdress. On the other hand, I also had a black cowgirl outfit with white fringe on the sleeves and the skirt, along with a six-shooter, a cowgirl hat, and a bandolier. Even as a kid, I liked to walk both sides of the cultural street.

  13. Longfellow, I believe is my all time favorite poet but then I love a few other American poets. too. This is quite an interesting post and I was really happy to read that it pleased Gerard so much. As I was reading your post about the Finnish artists, I immediately thought of Helvi and of course Gerard.

    Way back in my mind I think I remember hearing of Hamm’s beer and maybe it was sold this far south. I don’t remember the jingle about the land or lake of blue water but I remember Hamm’s beer. Maybe it was an add that I saw on TV or some other place.

    1. I never, ever would have thought that Longfellow drew on a Finnish epic poem as inspiration for his “Song of Hiawatha,” but he certainly did, and it turned out wonderfully well. When I was a kid, we lived one county over from the Meskwaki tribe, and I’m sure I conflated the Native Americans whose ceremonies I attended with the mighty Hiawatha.

      It really was nice to be able to stir some good memories for Gerard. He came to love Finland as much as he loved Helvi, and that attachment won’t go away.

  14. Thank you for making me aware of both the parodies and “The Song of Hiawatha”‘s connection to Finland and its epic of which I knew nothing. I am ever impressed by your curiosity and zeal in researching the topics and stories contained in your posts. I was never required to memorize poetry or much else for that matter…aside from the Pledge and Lord’s Prayer. We had much reading assigned but never were asked to recite. Maybe that’s why my memory is so bad now having never been trained to recall.
    That beer commercial was wonderful although my best guess is that it wouldn’t fly today. For some reason the beaver and bear made me think of Yogi and Boo-Boo.

    1. I finally found when and why the end of the bear commercials came. It was 2000, when concern about using cartoon animals to sell products began to surface, because of their influence on children. That still was a pretty good run. Up to that time, the bear’s appearance changed a bit, but the drumming and music still were part of the ad.

      I’ve never considered the possibility that constant memorization as a kid might have helped to keep my adult memory sharp. I’m at the point in life now where I occasionally “lose” a word, but I usually can find it without resorting to the internet. In fact, I try very hard not to use search engines, since studies seem to indicate that doing so actually diminishes memory.

      I was tickled this morning to find that someone from the Kalevala Society in Helsinki had left a comment here. I’m sure they have a Google alert in place, so they can track references to the society around the world — there are times when the internet is wonderful.

      1. In scrolling through the comments I first saw you mention the response and then came across it a little lower. I think that you are right about their having an alert when mentioned. I once was having trouble figuring out how to use The Photographer’s Ephemeris”, mentioned it in a post, and the creator of the app commented on my post and pointed out what I needed to do to get the information I needed. He followed me after that so I am pretty sure he wasn’t and my mention triggered the response.
        I find that if I “lose” a word, which happens often these days, and try to call it up it doesn’t happen. But moving on will allow it to surface on its own, so to speak, and then I can return to whatever I was saying…or my conversation partner fills in the blank for me.
        Ah, so there are two reasons the ad wouldn’t fly today. Talking animal product shills and cultural sensitivity.

        1. Your comment about losing and finding words reminded me of an article I read years ago and still enjoy reading. It’s called “The Eureka Hunt.” It was written by Jonah Lehrer, who actually was quite a plagiarist (self- and otherwise), but there still are some insights there that helped me understand my own losing and finding of insights generally. I found this in the article, which seems apropos:

          “One of the surprising lessons of this research is that trying to force an insight can actually prevent the insight. While it’s commonly assumed that the best way to solve a difficult problem is to focus, minimize distractions, and pay attention only to the relevant details, this clenched state of mind may inhibit the sort of creative connections that lead to sudden breakthroughs. We suppress the very type of brain activity that we should be encouraging.”

          This, and other research detailed in the article, helps to explain why things often “come to us” in the shower, or just after waking, and so on. Day-dreaming isn’t a waste of time, at all.

          1. I think some of this falls into the category of trying too hard and our disappointment at loss of recall gets in the way of remembering. I do the Jumble as well as crosswords in our local paper every day as a brain exercise. It’s not really deeply challenging but helps me focus a little bit as I am downing my oatmeal. The words are basic everyday but sometimes just stump. The harder I try to solve the clue the harder it becomes but once I move on to a different word or something altogether unrelated it pops into my head. I’ve had solutions to real puzzlers, problems to solve at work etc, wake me from a dream at night. Thanks for the link. I’ll read it and respond. Of course there will come a point, at least with my family history, that it will be more than a lost word to deal with.

      2. That’s right, we are using a service which crawls the internet in search of mentions of for example “Kalevala”.

        When kids are or were reading Hiawatha at school, is/was it common knowledge that is was part of an authenticity controversy when it was written? It may be interesting for you to know that the first time some poems of Kalevala were translated in English, it was in a very critical writing by a Thomas C. Porter, who wanted to show that Longfellow’s Hiawatha is not an authentic work but merely something inspired by the newly published Finnish epic, Kalevala. In fact, this scathing article from 1852 can still be read in the internet: https://books.google.fi/books?id=dmk2AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA255#v=onepage&q&f=false

        Since then, there has been several proper English translations of Kalevala, the latest being Keith Bosley’s from 1989. You can listen to a sample of it here (read by Keith Bosley himself) : https://www.scribd.com/audiobook/237867379/The-Kalevala

        1. That’s quite an article by Mr. Porter. It took me some time to get through it, and I need time for another read or two, just to make my way through the textual comparisons. But in answer to your question: no, I never was aware of the controversy, and I’m glad you mentioned it. It occurred to me that, had Longfellow offered his “Hiawatha” as a parody of the Kalevala, Mr. Porter might have been more accepting!

          Thank you for the link to the audiobook, too. I noticed on that page that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight also was available. I thought about that work while I was reading the Porter article, since alliteration and parallelism are as much a part of Sir Gawain as of the Kalevala.

  15. Count me as one of the countless school children who had to memorize poetry by Longfellow. In my case, it was “The Wreck of the Hesperus.” Let’s just say Longfellow is not one of my favorite poets. His work is meant to be read aloud or recited. The Victorians were a lot bigger on being read books aloud than we are today. Women would spend afternoons doing mending, handwork, embroidery, knitting, etc., and would take turns having one person read aloud to the group. Or papa or big brother would read whole books to the family a chapter at a time in the evening while mama and the daughters did handwork. That niche is now filled by Audible.com. The photography of Lewis Carrol’s is a rather fraught subject. Some of his photographs of children would be considered very inappropriate today — and would get him arrested!

    1. Now, that made me laugh. When I was in junior high and high school, my exasperated mother sometimes would tell me that my bedroom looked like the wreck of the Hesperus. I just read it, and I think I know why it wasn’t one of those we were invited to memorize when I was in school. If it had been, I might have given up on Longfellow entirely. I suppose now it’s even more terrifying because I’ve been at sea in a gale or two; let’s say the poem is just a little too realistic for me to enjoy it.

      We used to read aloud while traveling by car. It was almost as much fun as looking for out-of-state license plates, or reading the BurmaShave signs. And my fourth grade teacher read to us every day. That’s how I was introduced to the Laura Ingalls Wilder ‘Little House’ series. Podcasts and Audible.com are great, but there again, they’re just not the same as listening in a group to someone read, where more interaction’s possible.

    1. It’s been my pleasure, to say the least. I’ve known very little about modern Finland, either, although another of my readers has encouraged me to learn more about such treasures as its educational system. It’s nice to be introduced to another interesting part of the world.

      1. Thank you for the link! Very enjoyable reading! I know that Finland is quite unknown and due to that reason, I have revealed many things about my country, which are not known to my readers with more than 400 posts and more than 20 000 photos. My country offers experiences which do not exist elsewhere for example free reindeer races for everybody, historical and unique poor-man statues. Many people go to different courses during the winter. For example, my wife went this autumn adult learning Italian courses, although she speaks English, Spanish, French and Portuguese As I do also. People love handicrafts and learn them on courses. We use very much libraries which offers a great variety all kind of books.

        We love our customs. For example, using and presenting our national dresses. They are beautiful. Here:

        Airing national costumes2

        Well, here were some thoughts about my country and its people. I wish a very happy day!


        1. I just had a funny experience. I was curious about the poor man statues, and looked for information about them. I found a blog written by someone who had been traveling in Finland, and he quoted a passage from a Finnish blogger who described them. It was from your blog!

          Your mention of the reindeer, and the beautiful costumes, brought the Sami people to mind. I found this wonderful video that describes many things about their culture. I especially liked this: “Nature is everything for us because we think we belong to Mother Earth,” explains Sami writer/artist/teacher Gunnel Heligfjell, “It is not as with Western European thinking that the earth belongs to us, to the human beings. We think that we belong to the earth like the animals and the plants and everything.”

          It’s interesting that their culture reaches across so many national boundaries, including Finland. It’s very appealing!

          1. OMG. Very interesting answer and wise words. Poor-man statues are very near to my heart. My interest towards them when I visited in an exposition of them in the world’s biggest wooden church. I made three posts about what I saw there. Here is the first one:

            Statues of Paupers1

            It has two links to other posts. This is maybe the best post presenting them together. They are awesome. Well, I have tried to get them on the UNESCO Heritage List, but no success. They do not bother to answer me!!! I feel myself very sorry and my heart bleeds when knowing that the rest of the world must stay unaware about them!

            Thank you again and have happy weekend.

    1. Thanks! I do love a good story, and I think that might be one reason Longfellow’s always appealed to me. Hiawatha, Evangeline, the village blacksmith — all those poems tell great stories, and they’re fun to read.

  16. Until your post, I was completely ignorant of the Kalevala. I’ve known Lewis Carroll’s photography, but not the wonderful parody of Longfellow’s poem. Time to read both!

    1. This post really was an instance of one thing leading to another. A Michigan blogger’s mention of mittens brought that parody to mind, which brought Hiawatha to mind, which led to Carroll’s parody, and the Kalevala. I’m not sure this is exactly what John Muir had in mind when he said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe,” but it certainly seems to fit.

      1. I only read a few runes of the Kalevala, then skipped ahead to Rune XX, The Brewing of Beer. I’m sure it was better than Hamm’s. I read all of the Carroll parody, though, and looked some of his photographs again. There’s a wonderful portrait of Tennyson.

  17. Oh, heavens! I’m suddenly back in elementary school, with our teacher leading us in reading Hiawatha. I remember how the rhythm sucked me in. Just like Kipling, you can ‘post’ to it, to borrow an equestrian term.

    I do remember “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” I had a copy of that and Hiawatha, both of which had belonged to one of my parents. I have no clue where they are now. Lost in moves, probably.

    1. The rhythm is a great part of the appeal, and you’re right to mention Kipling, too. He was one of those whose verse got served up to us in small doses. I was surprised when I found this page to see how prolific he’d been.

      I had a couple of copies of A Child’s Garden of Verses. They’re long gone now, along with all of my early cloth-bound copies of the Bobbsey Twins books. The cheap cardboard covers that came later just couldn’t compete.

    1. I’d not thought of Hamm’s for some time, either, but there obviously are people who do think about it: a lot. Look at this promotion for the next gathering of the Hamm’s Beer Club in Medina, Minnesota — this coming February! Clearly, a memory for us is a living tradition for them. I’ve heard it said, and it must be true, that people will collect anything.

    1. It is fun, and part of the pleasure is finding something new in every reading. I suspect it’s not just that we’re older and more appreciative now; it’s that they’re so rich it can take an occasional re-read to find the tidbits we missed before.

  18. If words on a page or audible music are part of a story, I often completely miss the pictures. I well remember the Hamm’s commercial – but only the song! I didn’t remember that cartoon at all.

    The first poem I ever memorized was Longfellow’s “The Children’s Hour” in fifth grade. It was one of many we could choose from to memorize that year. I don’t remember another until I was reading A Garden of Verses to my children so often and many of those poems embedded themselves in my memory.

    Dana Gioia, who was Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts for several years and then Poet Laureate of California, gives fascinating commentary in writings and lectures about other poets past and present, and I so much enjoyed his talk on Longfellow on the Mars Hill Audio Journal several years ago.

    In regard to poetry, Gioia isn’t worried about the fact that people are reading so much less these days, because historically poetry was sung or recited out loud, even among illiterate people. Longfellow’s poems are wonderful for that, and I think the “singability” factor is one reason he was popular so long. I wonder if anyone so satisfying to read and memorize will come along again. Do you know of anyone at all in the last hundred years?

    1. Funny, how selective our memories can be. I never hear the music of the Hamm’s commercial without seeing the bear in my mind — as well as his friend, the beaver.

      “The Children’s Hour” was one of my favorites. My mother read to me every night, and the poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses were in the regular rotation. What’s interesting is that when she began reading to me — long before I was old enough to remember or comprehend what I was hearing — she said she’d read anything: Ladies’ Home Journal articles, the cookbook, novels, the newspaper. Apparently it was the act of reading that embedded itself long before any content did, because once I was able to read for myself, they couldn’t get books out of my hands.

      One of the greatest changes in poetry over the years was the move from the spoken word to written. I’ve not studied the history of that, but I’ve read enough to know that a time came (about the time I was in high school and college) when the arrangement of words on a page become more important than the sound of the words. E.e. cummings comes to mind.

      Then, it became the fashion to take any hunk of prose, split it into lines, and call it a poem, despite the absence of rhythm, rhyme, metaphor, alliteration, and so on. I think there’s a move back in the other direction now, although even some of my favorites, including Mary Oliver, sometimes aren’t as poetic as I’d like. For that matter, there are a couple of lines in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets that need to be re-written to improve the rhythm, but I guess I’ll not be able to pull that off.

      I tucked a quotation into my files that I think touches on this. In Paradoxes in Probability Theory and Mathematical Statistics, Gábor J. Székely shared a paradox learned from his professor, Alfréd Rényi:

      “Since I started to deal with information theory I have often meditated upon the conciseness of poems: how can a single line of verse contain far more ‘information’ than a highly concise telegram of the same length? The surprising richness of meaning of literary works seems to be in contradiction with the laws of information theory.

      The key to this paradox is, I think, the notion of ‘resonance.’ The writer does not merely give us information, but also plays on the strings of the language with such virtuosity, that our mind, and even the subconscious, self-resonate. A poet can recall chains of ideas, emotions and memories with a well-turned word. In this sense, writing is magic.”

  19. I’m put in mind of that wonderful Katharine Hepburn movie, “Desk Set”. Early in the movie she recites those lines from Hiawatha, and I cannot read them without hearing her voice. And that beer commercial~! Yes, I remembered it instantly! Funny.

    1. I’ve never heard of that movie, but I like Katharine Hepburn. The thought of her reciting lines from “The Song of Hiawatha” makes me grin. The film’s available to rent on Amazon Prime, so I might give it a look some evening. It’s interesting how many commercials from the past come back with only a few measures of the music that accompanied them: Bosco and Lucky Strike cigarettes are two I remember, but I’m sure there are others that would come back in a flash if I heard a few measures of the music.

      1. It is one of my favorite films~I hope you like it too.
        It is fun to hear a snatch of an old song and realize you remember it.

    1. I loved all of those Hamm’s commercials. The characters changed a bit over the years — the bear’s hair was styled differently, the duck got spiffed up a bit — but they were essentially the same, and just as humorous. They kept the music the same, too. At one point, the commercials were taken off the air, and people raised such a ruckus they were brought back. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  20. Well this is a fun post! Although that little ditty about skin side inside is a bit horrifying. I was the the kind of child who would have had nightmares. Ha!

    1. That’s funny, about you and the skin-side poem. The only thing I found horrifying was trying to keep all the verses straight. I kept confusing what was supposed to be inside and what went outside, and when it was my turn to recite, everyone had to be very, very patient while I figured it out!

    1. I just realized I didn’t click the right ‘reply’ button, so you may not have seen this. Here it is!

      January 19, 2020 at 7:01 am Edit

      Done! I’m pretty sure it’s winter jasmine. The details are over at John’s.

  21. What an interesting post, though the comments are equally interesting! A friend is in Finland (after six months in sultry Guayaquil – what a contrast!) and she will probably enjoy reading this and the comments from the folks in Finland!

    Evangeline, of course, was the story embraced in my ‘Mississippi’ literature classes, and I can still recall illustrations of the ancient oaks draped with Spanish Moss. Ah, also poetic in visual form!

    1. The connection of Longfellow’s “Hiawatha” to a Finnish epic certainly wasn’t on my radar. When I read the article Sartenada recommended, I found it interesting, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the argument that Longfellow had ‘borrowed’ a bit too much from the Kalevala. I’m not much of a literary nit-picker, though. Borrowing a particular meter seems analogous to using a particular poetic form. Shakespeare wasn’t the only one who could write a sonnet, after all!

      I do need to get back to Louisiana and Mississippi. Once experienced, those oaks, and those cultures, certainly do exert a pull. One of my treasures is a bound reprint of an 1887 article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, written by Charles Dudley Warner and called “The Acadian Land.” The illustrations — engravings, I think — are splendid. One is a view of the Bayou Teche at New Iberia. I’d love to have a couple of weeks to follow that bayou through the whole of its length.

  22. Your post brings back memories to me, similar to my ‘Little Women’ movie experience. During my New England road trip I visited Longfellow’s Wayside Inn and had dinner there. Historic preservation that’s inspiring, like Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.

    1. Or Faulkner’s home in Mississippi, or William Least Heat-Moon’s Chase County, Kansas.There always are things to discover in a place that simply can’t be communicated through even the best book or online article. Those memories stay, too — even after some of the facts have faded away.

    1. What a lovely compliment, Dina. While I don’t set out to ‘teach,’ I do get excited from time to time, and want to share the results of my poking around. I was fascinated by the Kalevala, and it really pleased me that others were interested, too. Wouldn’t it be fun to combine a group oral recitation of that work with a little Hamm’s beer? Then we could read Hiawatha, with a little drumming on the side.

  23. The Song of Hiawatha was probably my first real literature love. I still remember how I was transfixed by the beauty of the rhythms and the images he created in my mind’s eye. What a beautiful post!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s fun to see how many people had “The Song of Hiawatha” as part of their early education, and how many pleasant memories a mention of it evokes. I never hear it without thinking of Minnesota. When I was a kid, the poem and the lake where we vacationed were conflated in my mind. I was pretty sure that Leech Lake was Gitche Gumee. Eventually, that got sorted out — on a trip to Hibbing and Duluth.

  24. When I was in college we did children’s theatre. We did a play (written by our prof) and then went to schools, into classrooms and did something related to the play; then we took them all to the gym for the play and the kids interacted. Well, for one, we taught the kids Hiawatha in Indian sign language (that’s what we called it then). I’m pretty sure it wasn’t REAL sign language, probably made up by the director with help from someone who knew ASL. Maybe it was more than we thought. But I still have much — not all — of that poem burnished in my memory (and some of the signs to go with it!) I last thought of it when Rick and I ate at the Longfellow Inn in Sudbury, MA last year. Thanks for making me think of it again!

    1. That’s quite a history you have with the poem, Jeanie. I can see why it lingers in your mind — that’s as much of an immersion as I can imagine. It must have been wonderful fun to introduce the kids to it. The addition of sign language is interesting — was it because some of the children used it, or was it simply something that your director came up with?

      You and Arti both have been to the Longfellow Inn; that’s a great way to reestablish a relationship with a great poet. And of course now I’m remembering that absolutely silly rhyme from grade school: ““You’re a poet and you don’t know it, but your feet sure do show it, ’cause they’re Longfellows!”

  25. It was something the director came up with — that’s why I don’t know how much was fake and how much real — if any. But it was fun. I hadn’t heard your funny Longfellow rhyme. That’s a good one!

  26. I couldn’t imagine where you were going with “Hiawatha’s Camera,” but what an intriguing title. And an outstanding post, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and learned a few things. And enjoyed the beer commercial, which I’d never seen, that’s pretty funny. And then enjoyed & learned from the comments, too.

    They have a sort of statue of Hiawatha in a museum in Rochester, combing the head of an evil chief, who had snakes instead of hair, like Medusa (he succeeded in getting the snakes out and bringing peace) I saw it when I was a kid, and that image has stayed with me.

    Even though it’s a very distant relationship, I’ve read many time that Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian are related, and I wonder if those languages are closer to ancient spoken tongues, as opposed to European languages that have been hammered into formal grammars (like “To whom do you refer” vs “Who you talkin’ ’bout”) so their perfect for recitations.

    When you share these unexpected histories & connections, like finding a Longfellow classic that draws on a Finnish epic, it reminds me that as long as I’ve read your posts, you’ve struck me as a model educator, like that literacy group’s slogan “Reading is Fun-damental.”

    1. Here’s what’s funny about your comment about me as ‘model educator.’ When I was in college, the very last thing I wanted to do was teach. I crossed that off my list of life possibilities with the biggest, blackest marker I could find. Then, I got (gently) coerced into teaching in Liberia, and I discovered I enjoyed it. Other chances came along, including teaching sailing, and I found out I was pretty good at that, too. Now, I suppose what I do here does fall into the category of teaching from time to time, and I love that, too: the discovering, the research, the sharing. If I had it all to do over again, I might well go into teaching formally — it’s really a lot of fun.

      Originally, I was going to post just the image of the camera and the related parody bit on Lagniappe, but the more I read, the more it expanded, and I had to bring it over here. It was fun sharing that Hamm’s commercial, for one thing. Today, after the usual corporate mergers and acquisitions, Hamm’s is brewed by Miller Brewing of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s in your neighborhood, more or less.

      I think you’re on to something with the languages. According to the more-or-less trustworthy Wiki, “Finnish is one of the four national languages of Europe that is not an Indo-European language. The other three are Estonian and Hungarian, which are also Uralic languages, and Basque.” Apparently Finns and Estonians can understand one another fairly well, but the Hungarians? Not so much. I do remember Gerard Oosterman talking about how hard it was to learn Finnish. It’s not just the grammar, but the pronunciation and intonation that made it hard.

      1. My grandfather spoke a little Hungarian, both his parents immigrated from there, after WWI. But he always said he only knew silly words, his parents didn’t teach him, and used it for private conversations when the kids were around, and thought it was more useful for him to learn German. But when I hear it, it doesn’t sound like anything else, not Germanic, not Romance of course.
        That Hamm’s ad is fun, but I haven’t tried it, I don’t drink beer very often, and there’s a brewery nearby in New Glaurus that makes a “Spotted Cow” brew that’s delicious. I did try a Blatz, another old-timer, and honestly, I wish I hadn’t!

          1. That’s funny, but pretty accurate, it does sound like its name. I think all the old-time brands like that are owned by a big conglomerate now. There’s some very good small producers in town, though, and New Glaurus and Bell’s (Michigan) are just great.

            1. It’s the same here. Of course the ‘big name’ beers still sell, but the best are from the craft breweries, and there are some fine ones. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but one from your area I do enjoy in the summer is the Leinenkugel Summer Shandy. Straight from Chippewa Falls, by gosh.

  27. How interesting to see that commercial! No advertiser would dream of running an ad that long anymore – both for reasons of cost and viewer attention. I’m sure you know this but gitchi-gami (many spelling variations exist) is Lake Superior. A few years back we spent about two weeks on the North Side of the Lake at a variety of camp-grounds, and doing some hiking. Lake Superior is decidedly magical. If you’ve never been, I’d recommend a visit one day. But if you visit the Canadian side, you’ll have to bring your own Hamms, since we can’t buy it here.

    1. There are teachers I know who say, only half-jokingly, that attention spans may be down to that of a 30 second sound bite, so you might be right.

      I do know that gitchi-gami is Lake Superior, but for decades I didn’t know that. When I was a kid, I thought it was Leech Lake, where we vacationed. Then I associated it with Lake Michigan, and I finally got it straightened out a few years ago. I’d love to visit the lake; I made it to Hibbing and the ore docks with my folks as a kid, but I’d like to sample some of its natural treasures now.

      As for the Hamm’s — no worries. Despite loving their advertisements, I never developed the taste for it.

      1. I was at a seminar recently that claimed that the 12 second attention span of millennials is being replaced by an 8 second attention span in the Generation Z’s. Who knows if this is true, but it does give one pause.

        1. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad. Even if it isn’t — let’s say the kids have a ten minute attention span — that still would make everything from reading Russian novels to following a complicated argument nearly impossible.

  28. As one who didn’t grow up in The States, I only have a minimal notion about Longfellow. Yes, I have heard about the “The Song of Hiawatha”, but I wasn’t aware of any of the other sides to the story you bring here. A fun read, thus.

  29. I’m not sure how I missed the last couple of posts, but I did. This post made me smile…and feel a little sad at the same time. From what I shared in the more current post about math, I didn’t do so well in high school. I wanted out, even though my mother had been told that I belonged in college prep classes because I was smart. Well, I showed them! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to memorize any Longfellow or any other poet. But I sure remember the Song of Hiawatha and the Hamm’s beer parody. My parents watched baseball and football, and so did I.
    My mother was luckier in her education in the early 20th century. She was also a drama major in college, so memorizing, something they started doing in elementary school, came easily to her. Into her late 90s, she could still recite stanzas of Evangeline.
    Nice post, thank you.

  30. Hello.

    Thank you telling about Kalevala. In school we had to read it! When being young it was not inspiring to me, sorry to say this. Later I started to understand better its value. When talking about camera, my father gave me a camera in 1952, which I still have. I have photo of it among my about-page.

    Stay safe and healthy!

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