Longfellow’s The Arrow and the Song

The Arrow and the Song

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

The twelve-line poem “The Arrow and the Song” was written on October 16th, 1845 and published in The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems. “The Arrow and the Song”, “And the song, from beginning to end / I found again in the heart of a friend”mark the beginning and end of a friendship. The poem describes how friendship came to be fast and swift, but it is quickly found in the people closest to them. It can also be seen how words can be quick and hard but also quiet and soft.

The beginning of the poem is describing how friends or family can quickly disappear or go, as quick as an arrow. In the body, it’s describing a song is the same way, but it can be followed, unlike a person. This poem can be compared to a loss of a family member or failure of a friendship with a friend but finding a new relationship through that journey. Words can be harsh and quick, like an arrow and it can pierce into any heart. Words can also be quiet and soft like a song on the wind, soothing anyone who hears it.

From Christopher Irmsher’s book, he quotes Oscar Wilde’s description of Longfellow from 1882. “ However fantastic he may be in public, in private he is a very agreeable and intelligent young man,”. (210).

Trisha Poitras

Bibliography and Further Readings

Irmscher, Christopher. Public Poet, Private Man: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at 200. 2009. Book.  Maine Historical Society.


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