The Village Blacksmith: For the Ordinary Fellow

September 21, 2010

The Village Blacksmith: In Honour of the Ordinary Fellow

This was one of the poems my late mother read to me when I was growing up. It is about a kind, religious and hardworking man.  The last stanza has special meaning to me. Henry Longfellow is brilliant in capturing the soul of this village blacksmith who has plenty to teach us about the simple life. I shall quote it  here as a constant reminder to me at least of what life is all about and what it has been for me.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought!

Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from this poem.–Din Merican

The Village Blacksmith
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

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 catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipe
A tear out of his eyes.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought!

10 thoughts on “The Village Blacksmith: For the Ordinary Fellow

  1. Your mum must have been a truly remakable person, Din.
    Longfellow? Goodness me, it’s been such a long time. Thanks for the memories. Here’s to you and your beloved Dr. Kam:

  2. Thanks, Menyalaker.

    My Mom was a truly a jewel of a woman. She was a Malaysian first and last and served her country and her state Kedah well. She was awarded Bintang Cemerlang Kedah (BCK) for her services. She spoke Hokkien and Tamil well, not mention Bahasa Malaya (Kedah lingo) and English.

    I am eternally grateful to her for giving me a good education and to appreciate poetry and literature. I remember her for also staying up late to make coffee when I was studying for my Cambridge (Form 5) examinations. Mothers are special. I am sure you agree.

    Another 2 favorite Longfellow poems of hers are The Song of Hiawatha and By The Seaside : The Lighthouse. Here it is for you:

    By The Seaside : The Lighthouse

    The rocky ledge runs far into the sea,
    And on its outer point, some miles away,
    The Lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,
    A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.

    Even at this distance I can see the tides,
    Upheaving, break unheard along its base,
    A speechless wrath, that rises and subsides
    In the white lip and tremor of the face.

    And as the evening darkens, lo! how bright,
    Through the deep purple of the twilight air,
    Beams forth the sudden radiance of its light
    With strange, unearthly splendor in the glare!

    Not one alone; from each projecting cape
    And perilous reef along the ocean’s verge,
    Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,
    Holding its lantern o’er the restless surge.

    Like the great giant Christopher it stands
    Upon the brink of the tempestuous wave,
    Wading far out among the rocks and sands,
    The night-o’ertaken mariner to save.

    And the great ships sail outward and return,
    Bending and bowing o’er the billowy swells,
    And ever joyful, as they see it burn,
    They wave their silent welcomes and farewells.

    They come forth from the darkness, and their sails
    Gleam for a moment only in the blaze,
    And eager faces, as the light unveils,
    Gaze at the tower, and vanish while they gaze.

    The mariner remembers when a child,
    On his first voyage, he saw it fade and sink;
    And when, returning from adventures wild,
    He saw it rise again o’er ocean’s brink.

    Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same
    Year after year, through all the silent night
    Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
    Shines on that inextinguishable light!

    It sees the ocean to its bosom clasp
    The rocks and sea-sand with the kiss of peace;
    It sees the wild winds lift it in their grasp,
    And hold it up, and shake it like a fleece.

    The startled waves leap over it; the storm
    Smites it with all the scourges of the rain,
    And steadily against its solid form
    Press the great shoulders of the hurricane.

    The sea-bird wheeling round it, with the din
    Of wings and winds and solitary cries,
    Blinded and maddened by the light within,
    Dashes himself against the glare, and dies.

    A new Prometheus, chained upon the rock,
    Still grasping in his hand the fire of Jove,
    It does not hear the cry, nor heed the shock,
    But hails the mariner with words of love.

    ‘Sail on!’ it says, ‘sail on, ye stately ships!
    And with your floating bridge the ocean span;
    Be mine to guard this light from all eclipse,
    Be yours to bring man nearer unto man!’

    She also liked Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Samuel Coleridge Taylor (The Ancient Mariner), William Wordsworth (Daffodils), Alfred Lord Tennyson (Ulysses and Charge of the Light Brigade), John Keats (Lamia) and Lord Byron. She was a literature buff and avid read of great novels.–Din Merican

  3. If I may blend comments over recent blogs and your burst of poetic exuberance.

    Malaysia seeking trillions to boost her economy, the trail of foreign investment exiting, and the where-oh-where-are-we-going-to-get-the-money sentiments evokes Coleridge’s ‘Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.’

    Hopefully the trillions will be transformed into concrete wherewithals for ordinary Malaysians and not remain pies-in-the-skies to drool at.

    Otherwise future generations of Malaysians will have to pay forever for albatrosses hung around their necks by the current crop of economic technicians, corporate cronies, and political animals.

  4. my primary school headmistress taught us english . I barely remember her favourite piece – tiger tiger in the night ……. I believe it was by the Longfellow guy too
    It is by William Blake and for your benefit here it is:

    Tyger*! Tyger! burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    In what distant deeps or skies
    Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
    On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand dare sieze the fire?

    And what shoulder, & what art.
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    And when thy heart began to beat,
    What dread hand? & what dread feet?

    What the hammer? what the chain?
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

    When the stars threw down their spears,
    And watered heaven with their tears,
    Did he smile his work to see?
    Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

    Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


  5. Poetry is difficult to digest and much less to get hooked to when you are young and growing. I hated the subject when I was in school. But the table turned in my adulthood and subsequent years. Both the rough road of life one travels and the memory of phases of varied encounters and experiences one has gone through along that journey, can form the basis for the shaping of a person’s mind and his worldly views. It is in the context of his background that he realizes and acknowledges that poems and poetry – in the hands of good wordsmiths – can mirror the very reality and essence of life, the pain and the pitfalls as well as the charm and beauty of it.

    Occasionally I read aloud myself a poetry (or prose) from a newspaper, magazine or book, be it in English or Tamil, to the bewilderment of my family members. I read with pauses, appropriate stresses and clear diction, I deem appropriate and I enjoy it thoroughly. I also notice that each language has its own uniqueness and beauty. It is like the Malay pantuns, the exact meaning and essence of it cannot be captured in translation in another language.

  6. Mr Merican

    Wow, your mum is truly a remarkable woman. I salute her. No wonder she has a son who is an economist with a soul.


    A tenderness from deep within
    Touches my very soul
    From the first moment
    I laid eyes on you
    Til in my arms I did hold.

    Your innocence did fill my heart
    As I gazed down on your face
    I knew the years would soon rush by
    As if in a marathon race.

    Where has the time gone my son
    From toys to pickup trucks
    Why it seems like only yesterday
    You were riding on the bus.

    Now it’s football games
    And the senior prom
    Then tomorrow College starts.

    What’s this you say you’ve found someone
    And she has won your heart.
    It’s wedding bells and soon you tell
    You’re having a son of your own.

    What joy there will be
    As you will see
    When you bring God’s gift back home
    Keep a watch my son
    Let him romp and run
    For the years will come and go.

    Take time to teach and love him
    And respect for him always show
    For these simple words of wisdom
    Will cause his love to grow.

    ~© Marie Williams 2001~

  7. Oops. Dramas i like best are…..BolehLand drama: Ibrahim Katak vs Nazri.

    Episod 1 (2 week2 earlier) : Nazri hit out at Perkasa

    Episod 2 (1 week earlier): Ibrahim hit out at Nazri

    Episod 3 (Today ): Ibrahim Ali continues feud against Nazri

    Others recommended dramas:
    1: Ibrahim Katak vs K J
    2: Ibrahim Katak vs Tengku Man Man Soh.
    3: Ibrahim Katak vs CSL
    4: Ibrahim Katak vs Wee K S
    5: Ibrahim Katak vs Samy Malu
    6: Ibrahim Katak vs Koh Soh Hai

    The above dramas are mend for those who are suffering from Insomnia. After watching 10 minutes of any of the above episods, it guarantee you a nice & sound sleep.

  8. Yes K. Das, never got hooked on poetry until after graduation. Even then it was kind of spotty, but Longfellow was something i always appreciated. I think it’s becuz the beauty of words and inherent meanings don’t become apparent until we have gained enough ‘experience’.

    My parents weren’t literary buffs and my mum who was a nursing sister who couldn’t give two hoots about ‘dense’ words. She used to make the kids dress up and walk to church 4 mls. away on Sundays. Little wonder we became lapsed church goers in adulthood.. Btw Din, i have a suspicion that your mum might have known mine or my paternal aunt who was the matron of Penang or my god-mum who was the principal matrom all those years ago.

    Here’s to you Sayang and all here. Beautiful poetry – “Be”:

  9. The moving and simple poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a breath of fresh air on what life should and be. Work hard, pray ,bring up the family well and do honour the parents who moulded you right. I would like to share ( reproduce ) a poem from Christina Rossetti ( 1830-1894) titled ` Remember` Hope you will appreciate same :

    Remember me when I am gone away,
    Gone far away into the silent land ;
    When you can no more hold me by the hand,
    Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
    Remember me when no more, day by day,
    You tell me of our future that you planned;
    Only remember me; you understand
    It will be late to counsel then or pray.
    Yet if you should forget me for a while
    And afterwards remember, do not grieve;
    For if the the darkness and corruption leave
    A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
    Better by far you should forget and smile
    Than that you should remember and be sad.

    Thanks, Joe. If you find some good poems which you think are worth posting here, please send them to me and we can share them with our friends on this blog.–Din Merican

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