The Song of Hiawatha
The Song of Hiawatha is an 1855 epic poem, in trochaic tetrameter
Trochaic tetrameter
Trochaic tetrameter is a meter in poetry. It refers to a line of four trochaic feet. The word "tetrameter" simply means that the poem has four trochees...

, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline...

, featuring an Indian hero and loosely based on legends and ethnography of the Ojibwe (Chippewa, Anishinaabeg) and other Native American peoples contained in Algic Researches (1839) and additional writings of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. In sentiment, scope, overall conception, and many particulars, Longfellow's poem is very much a work of American Romantic literature, not a representation of Native American oral tradition, despite Longfellow's insistence that "I can give chapter and verse for these legends. Their chief value is that they are Indian legends."

Longfellow had originally planned on following Schoolcraft in calling his hero Manabozho, the name in use at the time among the Ojibwe of the south shore of Lake Superior for a figure of their folklore, a trickster
In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a trickster is a god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphic animal who plays tricks or otherwise disobeys normal rules and conventional behavior. It is suggested by Hansen that the term "Trickster" was probably first used in this...

-transformer. But in his journal entry for June 28, 1854, he wrote, "Work at 'Manabozho;' or, as I think I shall call it, 'Hiawatha'—that being another name for the same personage." Hiawatha was not, in fact, "another name for the same personage" (the mistaken identification was actually made by Schoolcraft then compounded by Longfellow), but a probable historical figure associated with the founding of the League of the Iroquois. Because of the poem, however, "Hiawatha" came into use as a name for everything from towns to a telephone company in the western Great Lakes region where no Iroquois reside.

Publication history

The poem was published on November 10, 1855, and was an immediate success. In 1857, Longfellow calculated that it had sold 50,000 copies. An 1890 edition featured illustrations by Frederic Remington, which although a rare book in the original, has been reprinted.

Plot summary

Longfellow chose to set The Song of Hiawatha at the Pictured Rocks, one of the locations along the south shore of Lake Superior also favored by narrators of the Manabozho stories.

The Song presents a legend of Hiawatha and his lover, Minnehaha
Minnehaha is a fictional Native American woman documented in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1855 epic poem The Song of Hiawatha. She is the lover of the titular protagonist Hiawatha. The name is often incorrectly said to mean "laughing water", though in reality it translates to "waterfall" or...

 in 22 chapters (and an Introduction). Hiawatha is not introduced until Chapter III.

In Chapter I, Hiawatha's arrival is prophesied by a "mighty" peace-bringing leader named Gitche Manito.

Chapter II tells a legend of how the warrior Mudjekeewis became Father of the Four Winds by slaying the Great Bear of the mountains, Mishe-Mokwa. His son Wabun, the East Wind, falls in love with a maiden whom he turns into the morning star, Wabun-Annung. Wabun's brother, Kabibonokka, the North Wind, bringer of autumn and winter, attacks Shingebis, "the diver". Shingebis repels him first by burning firewood, and then in a wrestling match. A third brother, Shawondasee, falls in love with a dandelion, mistaking it for a golden-haired maiden.

In Chapter III, in "unremembered ages", a woman named Nokomis falls from the moon. Nokomis gives birth to Wenonah, who grows to be a beautiful young woman. Nokomis warns her not to be seduced by the West Wind (Mudjekeewis) but she does not heed her mother and, thus, Hiawatha is born.

In the ensuing chapters Hiawatha has childhood adventures, falls in love with Minnehaha, slays the evil magician Pearl-Feather, invents written language, discovers corn and other episodes.

The poem closes with the approach of a birch canoe to Hiawatha's village, containing "the Priest of Prayer, the Pale-face." Hiawatha welcomes him joyously; and the "Black-Robe chief" brings word of Jesus Christ.

Hiawatha and the chiefs accept the Christian message. Hiawatha bids farewell to Nokomis
Nokomis is the name of Nanabozho's grandmother in the Ojibwe traditional stories andwas the name of Hiawatha's grandmother in Longfellow's poem, The Song of Hiawatha, which is a re-telling of the Nanabozho stories...

, the warriors, and the young men, giving them this charge: "But my guests I leave behind me/ Listen to their words of wisdom,/ Listen to the truth they tell you." Having endorsed the Christian missionaries, he launches his canoe for the last time westward toward the sunset, and departs forever.

General remarks

Because of its choice of subject, much of the scholarship on The Song of Hiawatha, since at least to the 1920s, has focused on its lack of fidelity to Ojibwe ethnography and Ojibwe literary genre rather than on it as a literary work in its own right. In addition to Longfellow’s own annotations, Stellanova Osborn (and previously F. Broilo in German) tracked down "chapter and verse" for every detail Longfellow took from Schoolcraft. Others have identified words from native languages included in the poem.

Schoolcraft as a "textmaker" seems to have been inconsistent in his pursuit of authenticity and his justification of rewriting and censoring sources. The folklorist Stith Thompson
Stith Thompson
Stith Thompson was an American scholar of folklore. He is the "Thompson" of the Aarne-Thompson classification system.- Biography :...

, although crediting Schoolcraft's research with being a "landmark," was quite critical of him: "Unfortunately, the scientific value of his work is marred by the manner in which he has reshaped the stories to fit his own literary taste."

Intentionally epic in scope, The Song of Hiawatha was described by its author as "this Indian Edda
The term Edda applies to the Old Norse Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, both of which were written down in Iceland during the 13th century in Icelandic, although they contain material from earlier traditional sources, reaching into the Viking Age...

". But Thompson judged that despite Longfellow's claimed "chapter and verse" citations, the work "produce[s] a unity the original will not warrant," i.e., it is non-Indian in its totality. Thompson found close parallels in plot between the poem and its sources, with the major exception that Longfellow took legends told about multiple characters and substituted the character "Hiawatha" as the protagonist of them all. Resemblances between the original stories, as "reshaped by Schoolcraft," and the episodes in the poem are but superficial, and Longfellow omits important details essential to Ojibwe narrative construction, characterization, and theme. This is the case even with "Hiawatha’s Fishing," the episode closest to its source. Of course, some important parts of the poem were more or less Longfellow’s invention from fragments or his imagination. "The courtship of Hiawatha and Minnehaha, the least ‘Indian’ of any of the events in ‘Hiawatha,’ has come for many readers to stand as the typical American Indian tale." Also, "in exercising the function of selecting incidents to make an artistic production, Longfellow . . . omitted all that aspect of the Manabozho saga which considers the culture hero as a trickster
In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a trickster is a god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphic animal who plays tricks or otherwise disobeys normal rules and conventional behavior. It is suggested by Hansen that the term "Trickster" was probably first used in this...

," this despite the fact that Schoolcraft had already diligently avoided what he himself called "vulgarisms."

In his book on the development of the image of the Indian in American thought and literature, Pearce wrote about The Song of Hiawatha: "It was Longfellow who fully realized for mid-nineteenth century Americans the possibility of [the] image of the noble savage. He had available to him not only [previous examples of] poems on the Indian . . . but also the general feeling that the Indian belonged nowhere in American life but in dim prehistory. He saw how the mass of Indian legends which Schoolcraft was collecting depicted noble savages out of time, and offered, if treated right, a kind of primitive example of that very progress which had done them in. Thus in Hiawatha he was able, matching legend with a sentimental view of a past far enough away in time to be safe and near enough in space to be appealing, fully to image the Indian as noble savage. For by the time Longfellow wrote Hiawatha, the Indian as a direct opponent of civilization was dead, yet was still heavy on American consciences . . . . The tone of the legend and ballad…would color the noble savage so as to make him blend in with a dim and satisfying past about which readers could have dim and satisfying feelings."

Longfellow's Hiawatha vs. the historical Iroquois Hiawatha

There is virtually no connection, apart from name, between Longfellow's hero and the sixteenth-century Iroquois chief Hiawatha
Hiawatha was a legendary Native American leader and founder of the Iroquois confederacy...

 who cofounded the Iroquois League. Longfellow took the name from works by Schoolcraft, which he acknowledged as his main sources. In his notes to the poem, Longfellow cites Schoolcraft as a source for "a tradition prevalent among the North American
North American
North American generally refers to an entity, people, group, or attribute of North America, especially of the United States and Canada together.-Culture:*North American English, a collective term used to describe American English and Canadian English...

 Indians, of a personage of miraculous birth, who was sent among them to clear their rivers, forests, and fishing-grounds, and to teach them the arts of peace. He was known among different tribes by the several names of Michabou, Chiabo, Manabozo, Tarenyawagon, and Hiawatha." Longfellow's notes make no reference to the Iroquois or the Iroquois League or to any historical personage. But
according to ethnographer Horatio Hale
Horatio Hale
Horatio Emmons Hale was an American-Canadian ethnologist, philologist and businessman who studied language as a key for classifying ancient peoples and being able to trace their migrations...

 (1817–1896), there was a longstanding confusion between the Iroquois leader Hiawatha and the Iroquois deity Aronhiawagon due to "an accidental similarity in the Onondaga dialect between [their names]." The deity, he says, was variously known as Aronhiawagon, Tearonhiaonagon, Taonhiawagi, or Tahiawagi; the historical Iroquois leader, as Hiawatha, Tayonwatha or Thannawege. Schoolcraft "made confusion worse ... by transferring the hero to a distant region and identifying him with Manabozho, a fantastic divinity of the Ojibways. [Schoolcraft's book] has not in it a single fact or fiction relating either to Hiawatha himself or to the Iroquois deity Aronhiawagon."

In 1856 Schoolcraft published The Myth of Hiawatha and Other Oral Legends Mythologic and Allegoric of the North American Indians, reprinting (with a few changes) stories previously published in Algic Researches and other works. Schoolcraft dedicated the book to Longfellow, whose work he praised highly.

Indian words recorded by Longfellow

Longfellow cites the Indian words he used came from the works by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft
Henry Schoolcraft
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft was an American geographer, geologist, and ethnologist, noted for his early studies of Native American cultures, as well as for his 1832 discovery of the source of the Mississippi River. He married Jane Johnston, whose parents were Ojibwe and Scots-Irish...

. The majority of the words he records come from the Ojibwa language
Ojibwe language
Ojibwe , also called Anishinaabemowin, is an indigenous language of the Algonquian language family. Ojibwe is characterized by a series of dialects that have local names and frequently local writing systems...

, with a few of the words from the Dakota
Dakota language
Dakota is a Siouan language spoken by the Dakota people of the Sioux tribes. Dakota is closely related to and mutually intelligible with the Lakota language.-Dialects:...

, Cree
Cree language
Cree is an Algonquian language spoken by approximately 117,000 people across Canada, from the Northwest Territories and Alberta to Labrador, making it the aboriginal language with the highest number of speakers in Canada. It is also spoken in the U.S. state of Montana...

 and Onondaga
Onondaga language
Onondaga Nation Language is the language of the Onondaga First Nation, one of the original five constituent tribes of the League of the Iroquois ....


Though the majority of the words do seem to accurately reflect pronunciation and definitions, some words seem to appear incomplete. For example, the Ojibway
Ojibwe language
Ojibwe , also called Anishinaabemowin, is an indigenous language of the Algonquian language family. Ojibwe is characterized by a series of dialects that have local names and frequently local writing systems...

 words for "blueberry" are miin (plural: miinan) for the berries and miinagaawanzh (plural: miinagaawanzhiig) for the bush upon which the berries grow. Longfellow records Meenah'ga that appears to be a partial form for the bush but uses the word to mean the berry. Since Longfellow was borrowing from Schoolcraft, mistakes are probably attributable to Schoolcraft (who was often careless about details) or to what always happens when someone who does not understand the nuances of a language and its grammar tries to use select words out of context.

A comprehensive list, Native American Words in Longfellow's Hiawatha has been published at

Inspiration from the Finnish Kalevala

The Song of Hiawatha was written in trochaic tetrameter, the same meter as Kalevala
The Kalevala is a 19th century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Finnish and Karelian oral folklore and mythology.It is regarded as the national epic of Finland and is one of the most significant works of Finnish literature...

, the Finnish epic reconstructed by Elias Lönnrot
Elias Lönnrot
Elias Lönnrot was a Finnish philologist and collector of traditional Finnish oral poetry. He is best known for compiling the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic compiled from national folklore.-Education and early life:...

 from fragments of folk poetry. Longfellow had learned some of the Finnish language while spending a summer in Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 in 1835. It is likely, however, that 20 years later, Longfellow had forgotten most of what he had learned of that language, and that he referred to a German translation of the Kalevala by Franz Anton Schiefner
Franz Anton Schiefner
Franz Anton Schiefner was a Baltic German linguist and tibetologist.Schiefner was born to a German-speaking family in Reval , Estonia, then part of Russian Empire. His father was a merchant who had emigrated from Bohemia...

. Trochee
A trochee or choree, choreus, is a metrical foot used in formal poetry consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one...

 is a rhythm natural to the Finnish language to the same extent that iamb is natural to English. Thus, Longfellow’s choice of trochaic tetrameter for his poem has an artificiality that the Kalevala, in its own language, does not. However, he was not the first American poet to use the trochaic (or tetrameter) in writing Indian romances. Schoolcraft had himself written a romantic poem, Alhalla, or the Lord of Talladega (1843) (in the original edition, his name was wrongly given as "Henry Rowe Colcraft") in trochaic tetrameter, about which he commented in his preface: "The meter is thought to be not ill adapted to the Indian mode of enunciation. Nothing is more characteristic of their harangues and public speeches, than the vehement yet broken and continued strain of utterance, which would be subject to the charge of monotony, were it not varied by the extraordinary compass in the stress of voice, broken by the repetition of high and low accent, and often terminated with an exclamatory vigor, which is sometimes startling. It is not the less in accordance with these traits that nearly every initial syllable of the measure chosen is under accent. This at least may be affirmed, that it imparts a movement to the narrative, which, at the same time that it obviates languor, favors that repetitious rhythm, or pseudo-parallelism, which so strongly marks their highly compound lexicography." Longfellow wrote to his friend Ferdinand Freiligrath
Ferdinand Freiligrath
Ferdinand Freiligrath was a German poet, translator and liberal agitator.-Biography:Freiligrath was born in Detmold, Principality of Lippe. His father was a teacher. He left a Detmold gymnasium at 16 to be trained for a commercial career in Soest...

 (who had introduced him to Finnische Runen in 1842) about the latter's article, "The Measure of Hiawatha" in the prominent London magazine, Athenaeum
Athenaeum (magazine)
The Athenaeum was a literary magazine published in London from 1828 to 1921. It had a reputation for publishing the very best writers of the age....

(December 25, 1855): "Your article . . . needs only one paragraph more to make it complete, and that is the statement that parallelism belongs to Indian poetry as well to Finnish… And this is my justification for adapting it in Hiawatha." Trochaic is not a correct descriptor for Ojibwe oratory, song, or storytelling, but Schoolcraft was writing long before the study of Native American linguistics had come of age. Parallelism certainly is an important part of Ojibwe language artistry.

Reception and influence

A short extract of 94 lines from the poem was and still is frequently anthologized under the title Hiawatha's Childhood (which is also the title of the longer 234-line section from which the extract is taken). This short extract is the most familiar portion of the poem. It is this short extract that begins with the famous lines:
By the shores of Gitche Gumee
Lake Superior
Lake Superior is the largest of the five traditionally-demarcated Great Lakes of North America. It is bounded to the north by the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of Minnesota, and to the south by the U.S. states of Wisconsin and Michigan. It is the largest freshwater lake in the...

By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis
Nokomis is the name of Nanabozho's grandmother in the Ojibwe traditional stories andwas the name of Hiawatha's grandmother in Longfellow's poem, The Song of Hiawatha, which is a re-telling of the Nanabozho stories...

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.

In August 1855, The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

carried an item on "Longfellow's New Poem", quoting an article from another periodical which said that it "is very original, and has the simplicity and charm of a Saga... it is the very antipodes [sic] of Tennyson's Maud, which is . . . morbid, irreligious, and painful." In October, it noted that "Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha is nearly printed, and will soon appear."

By November its column, "Gossip: What has been most Talked About during the Week," observed that
The madness of the hour takes the metrical shape of trochee
A trochee or choree, choreus, is a metrical foot used in formal poetry consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one...

s, everybody writes trochaics, talks trochaics, and think [sic] in trochees: ...

"By the way, the rise in Erie
Makes the bears as cross as thunder
Thunder is the sound made by lightning. Depending on the nature of the lightning and distance of the listener, thunder can range from a sharp, loud crack to a long, low rumble . The sudden increase in pressure and temperature from lightning produces rapid expansion of the air surrounding and within...

"Yes sir-ree! And Jacob's losses,
I've been told, are quite enormous..."

Parodies emerged instantly. In fact, the New York Times reviewed a parody of Hiawatha four days before reviewing Hiawatha itself. Pocahontas: or the Gentle Savage was a comic extravaganza which included extracts from an imaginary Viking poem, "burlesquing the recent parodies, good, bad, and indifferent, on The Song of Hiawatha." The Times quoted:
Whence this song of Pocahontas,
With its flavor of tobacco,
And the stincweed
Stinkweed is an informal name for any noxious plant.Typically it is used in reference to*Tree of heaven *Datura stramonium *Thlaspi arvense *Cannabis indica...

 [sic] Old Mundungus,
With the ocho of the Breakdown,
With its smack of Bourbonwhiskey,
With the twangle of the Banjo,
Of the Banjo—the Goatskinner,
And the Fiddle—the Catgutto...

When the New York Times finally published a review of The Song of Hiawatha, it was scathing. The reviewer's judgment, however, seems based as much on the subject matter as on the poem. He allows that the poem "is entitled to commendation" for "embalming pleasantly enough the monstrous traditions of an uninteresting, and, one may almost say, a justly exterminated race
Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny was the 19th century American belief that the United States was destined to expand across the continent. It was used by Democrat-Republicans in the 1840s to justify the war with Mexico; the concept was denounced by Whigs, and fell into disuse after the mid-19th century.Advocates of...

." However, "As a poem, it deserves no place" because there "is no romance about the Indian." He complains that Hiawatha's deeds of magical strength pall by comparison to the feats of Hercules and even to those of "Finn Mac Cool, that big stupid Celtic mammoth." The reviewer writes that "Grotesque, absurd, and savage as the groundwork is, Mr. LONGFELLOW has woven over it a profuse wreath of his own poetic elegancies." But, he concludes, Hiawatha "will never add to Mr. LONGFELLOW's reputation as a poet."

A professor at Franklin and Marshall College named Thomas Conrad Porter believed that Longfellow's influence from the Kalevala was more than metrical. He claimed The Song of Hiawatha was "Plagiarism" in the Washington National Intelligencer of November 27, 1855. Longfellow wrote to his friend Charles Sumner
Charles Sumner
Charles Sumner was an American politician and senator from Massachusetts. An academic lawyer and a powerful orator, Sumner was the leader of the antislavery forces in Massachusetts and a leader of the Radical Republicans in the United States Senate during the American Civil War and Reconstruction,...

 a few days later: "As to having 'taken many of the most striking incidents of the Finnish Epic and transferred them to the American Indians'—it is absurd". Longfellow also insisted in his letter to Sumner that, "I know the Kalevala very well, and that some of its legends resemble the Indian stories preserved by Schoolcraft is very true. But the idea of making me responsible for that is too ludicrous." Later scholars, however, continued to debate the extent to which The Song of Hiawatha borrowed not only its meter but themes, episodes, and outline from the Kalevala.

Despite this, the poem was immediately popular, and was so for many decades thereafter, with the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica noting that "The metre is monotonous and easily ridiculed, but it suits the subject, and the poem is very popular." It was increasingly mocked and attacked by early modernist poets, and, in the twentieth century it diminished both in esteem and in popularity, sometimes as much remembered for the parodies it inspired as the actual text. The Grolier Club
Grolier Club
The Grolier Club is a private club and society of bibliophiles in New York City. Founded in January 1884, it is the oldest existing bibliophilic club in North America. The club is named after Jean Grolier de Servières, Viscount d'Aguisy, Treasurer General of France, whose library was famous; his...

 named The Song of Hiawatha the most influential book of 1855. Lydia Sigourney
Lydia Sigourney
Lydia Huntley Sigourney , née Lydia Howard Huntley, was a popular American poet during the early and mid 19th century. She was commonly known as the "Sweet Singer of Hartford". Most of her works were published with just her married name Mrs. Sigourney.-Early life:Mrs...

 was inspired by The Song of Hiawatha to write a similar epic poem on Pocahontas
Pocahontas was a Virginia Indian notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. She was the daughter of Chief Powhatan, the head of a network of tributary tribal nations in Tidewater Virginia...

, though she never completed it.


One of the first composers to tackle the poem was Emile Karst, whose cantata Hiawatha (1858) freely adapted and arranged texts of the poem.

Robert Stoepel
Robert Stoepel
Robert Auguste Stoepel was a German-born American composer and conductor.- Biography :He was born Auguste Stoepel in Berlin, 1821. Because his father had a reputation as a court musician, he adopted his forename...

's Hiawatha: An Indian Symphony was symphonic in scope, and had the advantage of the composer working with Longfellow, who approved of the work before its premiere in 1859.

Antonín Dvořák
Antonín Dvorák
Antonín Leopold Dvořák was a Czech composer of late Romantic music, who employed the idioms of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvořák’s own style is sometimes called "romantic-classicist synthesis". His works include symphonic, choral and chamber music, concerti, operas and many...

 was familiar with the work in Czech translation. In an article published in the New York Herald on December 15, 1893, he stated that the second movement of his Symphony No. 9, From the New World,
Symphony No. 9 (Dvorák)
The Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World", Op. 95, B. 178 , popularly known as the New World Symphony, was composed by Antonín Dvořák in 1893 during his visit to the United States from 1892 to 1895. It is by far his most popular symphony, and one of the most popular in the modern repertoire...

 was a "sketch or study for a later work, either a cantata
A cantata is a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment, typically in several movements, often involving a choir....

 or opera ... which will be based upon Longfellow's Hiawatha" and that the third movement scherzo was "suggested by the scene at the feast in Hiawatha where the Indians dance."

Curiously enough, Dvořák claimed that "the music of the negro
The word Negro is used in the English-speaking world to refer to a person of black ancestry or appearance, whether of African descent or not...

es and of the Indians was practically identical," and some passages that suggest African-American spirituals to modern ears may have been intended by Dvořák to evoke a Native American
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...


The poem was later used as the basis for a cantata trilogy, The Song of Hiawatha
The Song of Hiawatha (Coleridge-Taylor)
The Song of Hiawatha, Op. 30, is a trilogy of cantatas by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, produced between 1898 and 1900. The first part, Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, was particularly famous for many years and it made the composer's name known throughout the world.-Background:In 1898, Coleridge-Taylor was...

(1898–1900), by the English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was an English composer who achieved such success that he was once called the "African Mahler".-Early life and education:...

, who was himself born of an African father, and who also named his son Hiawatha. The first part, Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, was particularly famous for well over 50 years, receiving thousands of performances in the UK, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, but has slipped from popularity in recent years.

Part of the poem is recited in Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield
Michael Gordon Oldfield is an English multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, working a style that blends progressive rock, folk, ethnic or world music, classical music, electronic music, New Age, and more recently, dance. His music is often elaborate and complex in nature...

's 1978 album Incantations
Incantations (album)
Incantations is the fourth record album by Mike Oldfield, released in late 1978 on Virgin Records.The first Oldfield to be divided into more than two movements, it is the second longest work Oldfield has ever released...

, and also by 1957 film production of Desk Set
Desk Set
Desk Set is a 1957 American romantic comedy film directed by Walter Lang and starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn...

 by Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Houghton Hepburn was an American actress of film, stage, and television. In a career that spanned 62 years as a leading lady, she was best known for playing strong-willed, sophisticated women in both dramas and comedies...

's character Bunny Watson.

1970s British rockers Sweet
Sweet (band)
Sweet was a British rock band that rose to worldwide fame in the 1970s as one of the most prominent glam rock acts, with the classic line-up of lead vocalist Brian Connolly, bass player Steve Priest, guitarist Andy Scott, and drummer Mick Tucker.Sweet was formed in 1968 and achieved their first...

 sings of Hiawatha & Minnehaha in their song "Wig Wam Bam".

Laurie Anderson also includes an excerpt of the poem in her song of the same name.

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash
John R. "Johnny" Cash was an American singer-songwriter, actor, and author, who has been called one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century...

 began his concept album "Johnny Cash Sings Ballads of the True West" with an excerpt from the poem.

CocoRosie is a musical group formed in 2003 by sisters Bianca "Coco" and Sierra "Rosie" Casady. The sisters were born and raised in the United States, but formed the band in Paris after meeting for the first time in years...

, a duo made up of two sisters, included in their song 'Rainbowarriors' a portion of Hiawatha's Lamentation.


Edward Wagenknecht
Edward Wagenknecht
Edward Wagenknecht was an American literary critic and teacher, who specialized in 19th century American literature. He wrote and edited many books on literature and movies, and taught for many years at various universities, including the University of Chicago and Boston University...

 called it "the most parodied poem in the English language"; as noted above, parodies began to appear even before the poem was published.

Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson , better known by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll , was an English author, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon and photographer. His most famous writings are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, as well as the poems "The Hunting of the...

 wrote a poem, Hiawatha's Photographing, which he introduced by noting (in the same rhythm as the Longfellow poem) "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 1856, a slim book entitled The Song of Milkanwatha: Translated from the Original Feejee appeared, by "Marc Antony Henderson" (Rev. George A. Strong (1832–1912) and published by "Tickell and Grinne." It is a 94-page-long parody of Hiawatha, following it chapter by chapter. It contains the following passage:
In one hand Peek-Week, the squirrel,
in the other hand the blow-gun—
Fearful instrument, the blow-gun;
And Marcosset and Sumpunkin,
Kissed him, 'cause he killed the squirrel,
'Cause it was a rather big one.
From the squirrel-skin, Marcosset
Made some mittens for our hero,
Mittens with the fur-side inside,
With the fur-side next his fingers
So's to keep the hand warm inside;
That was why she put the fur-side—
Why she put the fur-side, inside.

Over time, this has been transformed into an elaborated version, sometimes attributed to Strong and sometimes (as in Carolyn Wells' A Nonsense Anthology) to "Anonymous:"
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.

The Smothers Brothers used this as a song on one of their albums, although they made it refer to Hiawatha.

In 1865 James Linen, a Scottish native, worked as a book binder in New York City before moving to California. Once settled, he began writing about the Golden state with a flair not entirely foreign as in this excerpt from San Francisco (in imitation of Hiawatha)
ANENT oak-wooded Contra Costa,
Built on hills, stands San Francisco;
Built on tall piles Oregonian,
Deeply sunk in mud terraqueous,
Where the crabs, fat and stupendous,
Once in all their glory revelled;
And where other tribes testaceous
Felt secure in Neptune's kingdom;
Where sea-sharks, with jaws terrific,
Fled from land-sharks of the Orient;
Not far from the great Pacific,
Snug within the Gate called Golden,
By the Hill called Telegraph,
Near the Mission of Dolores,
Close by the Valley of St. Ann's,
San Francisco rears its mansions,
Rears its palaces and churches;
Built of timber, bricks, and mortar,
Built on hills and built in valleys,

Built in Beelzebubbian splendor,
Stands the city San Francisco.

Another parody popular among hacker culture is The Song of Hakawatha.

Some Disney
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures is an American film studio owned by The Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney Pictures and Television, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Studios and the main production company for live-action feature films within the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, based at the Walt Disney...

 cartoons include episodes in which inept protagonists are beset by comic calamities on camping trips. Often these are introduced by a mock-solemn intonation of the lines about the shores of Gitchee Gummee. The most famous of these was the 1937 Silly Symphony Little Hiawatha
Little Hiawatha
Little Hiawatha is a 1937 animated cartoon produced by Walt Disney.-Synopsis:Over opening narration, Little Hiawatha is seen paddling his canoe down a river—at one point backwards—on his way to hunt game. Upon reaching land, he steps out and immediately falls down a hidden hole in the water,...

whose hero is a small boy whose pants keep falling down.

The 1941 Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., also known as Warner Bros. Pictures or simply Warner Bros. , is an American producer of film and television entertainment.One of the major film studios, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner, with its headquarters in Burbank,...

 cartoon, Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt
Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt
Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt is a Warner Bros. cartoon in the Merrie Melodies series, starring Bugs Bunny and Hiawatha, first released on June 7, 1941. The short makes several direct references to The Song of Hiawatha, an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow...

, featuring Bugs Bunny
Bugs Bunny
Bugs Bunny is a animated character created in 1938 at Leon Schlesinger Productions, later Warner Bros. Cartoons. Bugs is an anthropomorphic gray rabbit and is famous for his flippant, insouciant personality and his portrayal as a trickster. He has primarily appeared in animated cartoons, most...

 and a pint-sized version of Hiawatha, was nominated for an Academy Award.

In World War I, Owen Rutter
Owen Rutter
Edward Owen Rutter was an English historian, novelist and travel writer.After serving with the North Borneo Civil Service from 1910 to 1915, Rutter returned to Britain during World War I and was commissioned. Rutter served with the 7th Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment in France and on the...

, a British officer of the Army of the Orient, wrote "Tiadatha", to describe the city of Salonica, Greece, where several hundred thousand soldiers were stationed on the Macedonian Front
Macedonian front (World War I)
The Macedonian Front resulted from an attempt by the Allied Powers to aid Serbia, in the autumn of 1915, against the combined attack of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The expedition came too late and in insufficient force to prevent the fall of Serbia, and was complicated by the internal...

 in 1916-1918:
Tiadatha thought of Kipling,
Wondered if he's ever been there
Thought: "At least in Rue Egnatia
East and West are met together."
There were trams and Turkish beggars,
Mosques and minarets and churches,
Turkish baths and dirty cafés,
Picture palaces and kan-kans:
Daimler cars and Leyland lorries
Barging into buffalo wagons,
French and English private soldiers
Jostling seedy Eastern brigands.

(Cited by M. Mazower, Salonica, City of Ghosts, 2004, p. 313)

Margaret Pietsch wrote a parody skit based on "Song of Hiawatha". The skit was actually performed hundreds if not thousands of times, most famously on Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live is a live American late-night television sketch comedy and variety show developed by Lorne Michaels and Dick Ebersol. The show premiered on NBC on October 11, 1975, under the original title of NBC's Saturday Night.The show's sketches often parody contemporary American culture...

. As an introduction to "Song of Hiawatha" in a listing of "Programs of Inspiration and Humor", she wrote:

"As chairman of an adult dance at my daughter's grade school on January 25, 1958, our committee chose an Indian theme. The gym was decorated with live trees cut and arranged around the room. Large halved totem poles decorated the sides of the gym. A ceremonial artificial fire with lights and red paper and sticks was placed in the center and tables around the room. Ninety-five percent of those that attended wore hand-made or rented Indian costumes.

"This skit was prepared as the entertainment. Presidents of banks, leading realtors and business men in high positions were recruited to be a tree, the firefly or the deer, and each person was responsible for his own costume.

"It has been repeated several times, a must at the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the school.

"We appreciate and have a high regard for the Indian culture and this was always presented for the humor of the actions, as many of the Indian dances were performed with humor too.

"It has always received a happy response with requests for its repeated performance."

Song of Hiawatha Pageant

From 1948 until 2008, a Song of Hiawatha Pageant was performed annually on the last two weekends in July and the first weekend in August in Pipestone, Minnesota
Pipestone, Minnesota
As of the census of 2000, there were 4,280 people, 1,900 households, and 1,138 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,090.8 people per square mile . There were 2,097 housing units at an average density of 534.4 per square mile...

 at a large outdoor amphitheater. Most parts were played by white actors, but Indians have played major roles.

The performance was interrupted in 1970 by a protest by the American Indian Movement
American Indian Movement
The American Indian Movement is a Native American activist organization in the United States, founded in 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota by urban Native Americans. The national AIM agenda focuses on spirituality, leadership, and sovereignty...

. A public radio story quotes a Native American who lives in Pipestone as saying that although some Indians criticize the play, he thinks that "Anything, like the pageant, that shows a little bit of our tribal culture, even if it is a romanticized version of it, is a good thing." In 2008, the 60th anniversary of the pageant, its producers announced the pageant's discontinuation.

External links

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