A community is made up of a variety of people with different functions and occupations. Each occupation can serve as a prompt for poems. One of the most famous poems in English paying tribute to an occupational group is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Village Blacksmith.” I remember my grandmother reciting this poem, with some wistfulness in her voice. By the time I was born, she was living in Iowa City, Iowa, and most families had automobiles or got around town on the foot or on the bus. So far as I know, there was no blacksmith in town. My grandmother had grown up in Lincoln, Kansas, a small, rural prairie town. There still was a blacksmith in Lincoln when my grandmother took me to visit. Today, though most of us know about the blacksmith only from reading Longfellow’s poem or historical novels.
The Village Blacksmith
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 bear 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 haul, rough hand he wipes
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.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
John Greenleaf Whittier wrote long, rhymed poems in honor of “The Ship-Builders,” “The Shoemaker,” “The Drovers,” “The Fishermen,” “The Huskers” and “The Lumbermen.” Some of these occupations have largely disappeared from the American scene. For instance, though there are still some shoe repair shops, most of the shoes we wear were made in factories—and often in factories abroad.
Whittier’s book. Songs of Labor, and other poems, is available on-line in the Google book, Songs of Labor and Other Poems by John Greenleaf Whittier, which can be downloaded at http://books.google.com/books?id=y2ERAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.
There are links to several more contemporary poems about work and workers at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/06/labor-day-poems-the-poetr_n_705337.html.
* Donald Hall, "The Ox Cart Man," in White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006 (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), p. 94.
* Edward Hirsch, "The Custodian," The Atlantic (October 2011), p. 88.
In each community today—in any nations—there are people in a variety of occupations or professions. The challenge for October is to write a poem in tribute to persons who function in a particular occupation. It may be written about the occupation in general, as Whittier’s “The Drovers,” or you may use the singular, as Longfellow did, using his village blacksmith as an example of the best of the profession. The poem should not be a nostalgic look back, but deal with today’s reality. Pick an occupation that contributes to the welfare of your community today.
Your poem may be free verse or rhymed and metered. If you use a set form, please include the name of the form with your submission.
The deadline is October 15. Copyright on poems is retained by their authors.
Due to formatting restrictions on the blog, all poems should be left justified. Unfortunately I am unable to publish indentations, shaped poems or even extra spaces between words or phrases.
Poems published in books or on the Internet (including Facebook and other on-line social networks) are not eligible. If your poem has been published in a periodical, please include publication data. Poems submitted after the October 15 deadline will not be considered.
How to Submit Your Poem:
Send your poem to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for [dot]. Be sure provide your e-mail address. Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name, exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win, at the end of the poem.
© 2011 Wilda Morris
Post script: I've added several new links to poems of mine on the Internet.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
October 2011 Poetry Challenge
Posted by Wilda Morris at 11:50 PM
Labels: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, occupation poems, The Village Blacksmith