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.
There is a Hiawatha parody subtly included in the last chapter of Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat when the trio start on their homeward journey from Oxford (Chapter XIX beginning at the bottom of p.303 in the 1st edition). Jerome clearly liked his Longfellow – and in one way owed his success to him, for it was after reading Longfellow’s poem ‘Gaspar Beccera’ from By the Fireside that Jerome had the idea of writing about his experiences as an actor (the result was his first published success: On the Stage and Off). Here’s the extract from Three Men:
The river – with the sunlight flashing from its dancing wavelets, gilding gold the grey-green beech-trunks, glinting through the dark, cool wood paths, chasing shadows o’er the shallows, flinging diamonds from the mill-wheels, throwing kisses to the lilies, wantoning with the weirs’ white water, silvering moss-grown walls and bridges, brightening every tiny townlet, making sweet each lane and meadow, lying tangled in the rushes, peeping, laughing from each inlet, gleaming gay on many a far sail, making soft the air with glory – is a golden fairy stream. But the river – chill and weary, with the ceaseless raindrops falling on its brown and sluggish waters, with the sound as of a woman, weeping low in some dark chamber, while the woods all dark and silent, shrouded in their mists of vapour, stand like ghosts upon the margin; silent ghosts with eyes reproachful, like the ghosts of evil actions, like the ghosts of friends neglected – is a spirit-haunted water through the land of vain regrets.