Our poem this week is one that every schoolchild in America used to know, as it had entered the hearts and minds of the people, expressing much of what we considered to be best in our land. It’s Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith.”
And it was a part of what once was a real folk culture in America. So much so, in fact, that George Orwell, in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, bemoaning the loss of folk wisdom, parodies its opening lines in a dreadful way. They are drummed into Winston Smith’s head, in the torture chambers of the Ministry of Love:
Under the spreading chestnut tree,
I sold you and you sold me.
For Winston is tormented into betraying his love, Julia, as she is tormented into betraying him. The Ministry of Love, indeed: better named in Newspeak as Miniluv — where in fact there is a minimum of love.
But Longfellow’s poem is about love, honesty, piety, good work, and manly fidelity to duty – duty to one’s family, one’s neighbors, and God. It isn’t a c…
Listen to this episode with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Word & Song by Anthony Esolen to listen to this episode and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.