THIS MONTH’S PARODY (Apr 14) The Story of Hiawatha

THE STORY OF HIAWATHA

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1855)

Longfellow’s epic poem, written in trochaic tetrameter, has been much parodied. It begins thus:

Should you ask me, whence these stories?
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
And their wild reverberations
As of thunder in the mountains?

I should answer, I should tell you,
“From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors, and fen-lands
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them
From the lips of Nawadaha,
The musician, the sweet singer.”

 

Lewis Carroll’s parody Hiawatha’s Photographing has an introduction written in the same rhythm as Longfellow’s poem, in which he notes: “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.”

The most famous Hiawatha parody was written by another clergyman, Rev. George A. Strong (1832-1912) under the pseudonym of ‘Marc Antony Henderson’. Published just a year after The Song of Hiawatha, The Song of Milkanwatha: Translated from the Original Feejee (published by ‘Tickell and Grinne’) imitated Hiawatha chapter by chapter. In its 94 pages we find 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 elaborated into a much-anthologised short self-contained verse, sometimes attributed to Strong and sometimes to ‘Anonymous’:

THE MODERN HIAWATHA
Rev. George A. Strong (1832–1912)
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.

3 Comments

  • David Bagchi wrote:

    Dear OPer, this is great fun. / This is great fun, and so catching!
    Seriously, I think I have found a parody of/tribute to Hiawatha in Three Men in a Boat. If so, you are uniquely qualified to confirm. It occurs in the very last chapter, when the river ‘in her tears’ is being described. (Is it too fanciful to imagine that the Hiawatha rhythm imitates the constant dripping of rain on canvas?) The paragraph in question begins: ‘But the river – chill and weary, with the ceaseless raindrops falling …’ The rhythm actually begins in the previous paragraph, but gets into its stride in the para cited. I’d be glad to know what you think. JKJ never ceases to delight.

  • Hi David,
    Just caught your post. You are absolutely right – and thank you for reminding me. Someone pointed this section out to me years ago and I had forgotten. I am adding this to the Hiawatha parodies immediately with thanks!

  • Delighted to find this poem here. I had remembered bits it learned a very long time ago. Very funny; love the rhythm. A bit of my own verbal jingle written, but almost forgotten, a while back; just re-posted after this prompt- thank you. Lowerwatha https://alisongardiner1.com/

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