Nature by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: The Poet
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the most famous American poets whose poems are widely read in all English speaking countries. He was born in Portland in the state of Maine, USA. He was educated at Bowdoin College. The famous American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorn was his classmate there. He worked as a professor of modern languages, first at Bowdoin College and then at Harvard. Several times he went to Europe and studied there. He had taught at Harvard from 1836 to 1854. His first wife died in 1835 and he married again in 1843. In 1854 he resigned his professorship at Harvard and devoted himself entirely to poetry.
His prose writings are negligible in volume and they never became very popular. Longfellow started writing poetry at an early age. Some of his poems were already published when he was but a lad of thirteen or fourteen years Some of his more well-known works are : Voices of the Night : Ballads and Other Poems: Tales of a Wayside Inn, The Song of Hiawatha etc.
Longfellow’s poetry touches a great variety of subjects. Many of his shorter poems have a pronounced didactic note. But he is a careful artist and his narrative power is simply wonderful. At the height of his poetic career, his popularity as a poet in England and America was second only to Tennyson’s. Some of his shorter poems including The Arrow and the Song, The Day is Done and A Psalm of Life are quite well-known to Indian readers.
Nature by Longfellow Summary
(In the first eight lines of the poem, the poet draws the picture of a mother leading her unwilling child to bed.)
The day is over. Now it is time for the little child to go to bed. The child is not very willing to go to bed just now. So its mother gently takes it by the hand and leads it to bed. The child does not want to leave its playthings. At the same time, it feels tired, having played throughout the day. Thus the child is half willing and half reluctant to go to bed.
Lines 5 – 8
While being led by its mother to bed, the child is still looking at its playthings which can be seen through the open door. The mother promises to give her child other more splendid toys. Thus she tries to persuade the child to go to bed. The child feels partially comforted by this promise. At the same time, it feels uncertain if it would find the promised playthings more attractive than those it has to leave now.
Lines 9 – 14
(In the last six lines of the poem, the poet describes how nature conducts us through our life’s journey and leads us to our final haven of rest.)
Nature is to man what a mother is to her child. As we advance in years, nature gradually takes away all our earthly possessions and, at the same time, blunts all our senses. The final goal of our life is the long rest in the world beyond the grave. But so greatly attached we are to our earthly life that we are never too willing to proceed towards that goal. But nature leads us so gently to this final goal of life that we follow her almost in a trance. We learn from wise men that the world beyond is far more splendid than the world we live in. But, in our ignorance we fail to realize this difference. Thus we gradually proceed towards the final goal of our life, not out of our own accord but because nature leads us gently, affectionately and inevitably towards it.
Nature by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a fine sonnet in which one of the profoundest truths of man’s life has been presented through a beautiful comparison. Nature has been compared to a mother while man has been compared to a child.
The first eight lines of the poem describe how the unwilling child is gently being led by its mother to bed. This part of the poem clearly shows the poet’s power of observation and his descriptive skill His presentation of the scene is quite realistic, and we can see the child gazing at its playthings through the open door
In the last six lines of the poem, man’s journey through life has been metaphorically described. Nature here is conceived as a friend, philosopher and guide to man. So these lines may remind the reader of Wordsworth’s concept of nature. The real beauty of the poem lies in the metaphorical representation of man’s journey through life under the affectionate guidance of nature. Some words and expressions in the latter part of the poem have been used metaphorically. Thus ‘playthings’ refer to man’s earthly possessions. The expression 100 full of sleep’ refers to man’s ignorance of the true aim and purpose of life. The unknown’ is our eternal home beyond the grave. The familiar world in which we live is referred to as ‘what we know’.
The sonnet is written in the iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is: abba abba: and cde cde. The sonnet is a long-drawn comparison. The octave or the first eight lines of the poem contain one component part of the comparison. The sestet or the last six lines contain the other part. Thus there is a clear demarcation between the octave and the sestet. It is a sonnet of the Petrarchan variety.
Nature by H.W. Longfellow is a fine sonnet. In this poem, the poet deals with one of the profoundest truths of man’s life on earth. It is the final six lines of the poem that contain the central idea of the poem. The poet portrays nature as man’s friend, philosopher and guide. Man’s life on earth is a long, toilsome journey which leads him to the world beyond through the gateway of death. And it is nature which constantly guides us during this long journey and finally leads to our appointed destination
Nature by H.W. Longfellow is a fine sonnet in which a mother and her child have been beautifully compared with nature and man. Though it is time to go to bed, the child is unwilling to leave his playthings. So the mother promises to give it more splendid playthings and thus persuades it to go to bed. The poet sees a similar relationship between Mother Nature and man who is her child. Man’s life on earth has been conceived as a long journey whose final destination is the world beyond the grave. We men are unwilling to move towards this destination as we are too fond of our earthly possession, just as a child is unwilling to leave its dear playthings and go to bed. Our journey through life under the affectionate guidance of nature has been described metaphorically in the last six lines of the poem.
Thus playthings refer to all our earthly possessions for which we feel such a fond attachment. And as we grow in years, we inevitably come nearer and nearer to our final destination even though we wish to stay here on earth forever. The word “unknown’ in the last line of the poem refers to the world beyond the grave while the expression ‘what we know’ refers to the familiar world of our earthly experience. We are not certain which of these two worlds is the better one. But nature gently leads us from the one to the other, and we follow nature even as a child follow its mother to bed.
The Title of the Poem
The title of this sonnet is simple and straightforward. The central idea of the poem is located in the sestet i.e., in the last six lines of the poem. The title naturally refers to the idea expressed in these lines. Thus, while reading the poem for the first time, the reader may wonder why the poem has been entitled “Nature’ till he comes to the final six lines of the poem. But once he goes through the final six lines, he at once realises that the title directly refers to the central thought expressed in the poem.
The whole poem is cast in the mould of a long-drawn comparison. A comparison, as we all know, must have two component parts which are compared to each other. In this poem, one component part of the long-drawn simile is presented in the octave or the first eight lines, and the other component part is presented in the sestet or the final six lines. The octave describes how a mother leads her child to its bed. And, the sestet describes how, through the whole course of our life, nature gently leads us to our final goal which is the life beyond.
The octave or the first part of the poem serves as a background against which the central idea of the poem has been presented. Thus it is the final six “lines of the poem that contains the true message of the poem. The title directly refers to this central message. “Nature’ here must be understood in a broader sense. Nature here is conceived as the presiding deity of human life – a guiding angel that gently lead us to the haven of eternal rest through ah the perils and uncertainties of life. Naturally, we find the title quite appropriate.
Nature as a Sonnet
A Brief Note on the Sonnet The sonnet is a short poem of a rigid structure and fixed rhyme scheme. A sonnet consists of fourteen lines. Each of these lines consists of 11 syllables in Italian, 12 in French and 10 in English sonnets are written in the iambic Pentameter.
The sonnet originated in Italy. The form of the sonnet was perfected by the great Italian humanist and poet Petrarch. The sonnet was introduced in England by Wyatt and it was further developed by Surrey. Since then, numerous sonnets have been written by different English poets. Sonnets have been written on love, on religious themes and even on philosophical issues, Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats and Browning are some of the great English poets who have composed sonnets.
Sonnets are chiefly of two varieties – the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean. The Petrarchan sonnet consists of two sections: the first eight lines of the poem form the “octave and the final six lines are called the ‘sestet’. A thought or idea is generally presented in the octave, and it is expanded and explained in the sestet. The rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet is: abba abba (octave) and cde cde (sestet) can see that Nature by Longfellow is a Petrarchan sonnet, though the rhyme scheme in the sestet varies a little from the prescribed form.
The other variety of the sonnet is known as the Shakespearean sonnet. A Shakespearean sonnet consists of three quatrains (stanza of four lines) and a rhymed couplet. The rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet is: abab cdcd efef gg. Both these varieties of the sonnet have been practiced by renowned English poets.
Hello, Viewers! Besides being the Founder and Owner of this website, I am a Government Officer. As a hardcore literary lover, I am pursuing my dream by writing notes and articles related to Literature. Drop me a line anytime, whether it’s about any queries or demands or just to share your well-being. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by!