NCERT Class 9 English poem ‘A Legend of the Northland’ teaches us a strong moral principle that we should never be selfish and think of others too. The poem teaches us to be generous and to help the needy if we are capable of doing so.
About the Poem
The renowned poet, Phoebe Cary, wrote the poem. It is a sixteen stanza long ballad with four lines in each stanza. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABCB. The poem is about a woman who is very greedy and calculative. Once, a saint named St. Peter, who was very hungry but had no money in his pocket, asked the woman to offer him a piece of cake, but the woman didn’t offer him any help even though she was capable of helping him, due to which he was utterly upset and cursed her for her insensitivity.
About the Poet
Phoebe Cary is a poetess from America. She is also the sister of poetess Alice Cary. Together and individually, they have published many poems. ‘A Legend of the Northland’ is a beautiful piece of poetry from their poetry collection, ‘Ballads for Little Folk ‘by Alice and Phoebe Cary published in the year 1873 is one of the most renowned poems.
The poem ‘A legend of the Northland’ is a folktale that is passed from one generation to another in Northland. It is a story that revolves around Saint Peter and the little woman who was punished for her selfishness. The legend teaches us not to be greedy and that we should possess the qualities of kindness and empathy.
The theme of the poem revolves around the theme that those who don’t have kindness and compassion for others do not deserve to be loved. Also, one must not get greedy in the lust of possessing more materialistic pleasures and comfort in life. We must treat everyone with empathy and should understand others’ plight too. We all are children of God, therefore, we should love every other creature on the planet Earth. Those who are selfless and help others are always rewarded by the almighty, whereas those who are greedy and don’t care about others have to face the consequences.
The poem conveys a very beautiful message for the readers. We all are equal in the eyes of the Almighty god. We should treat everyone with respect and empathy. We should show love to our fellow beings. We should help the sufferers.
Those who understand others’ plight and show compassion towards them are loved by God and blessed with more wealth and comforts in life. In comparison, those who don’t treat people equally and discriminate against them based on their financial status and wealth are never blessed by God. We all are humans and therefore, we should make efforts to love and respect everyone. We must never get greedy and try to help the needy in each possible way.
The poem, ‘’A Legend Of the Northland’’ by Phoebe Cary consists of various literary devices.
1. Assonance – Assonance is found when two or more words close to each other use the same vowel sound. It adds rhythm to the poem; this literary device can be used in any poem or prose. Here in this poem, this literary device is used in the first stanza in, ‘’Away, Away’’.
2. Metaphor – It refers to a thing, object, or person as a symbolic representation of something else. In the poem, metaphor is used in ‘’swift reindeer’’. Here the poet has used the personal metaphor.
3. Simile – The poet uses it to compare two unlike things or objects by using the words, ‘’as’’ and ‘’like’’. In this poem, a simile is used in the line, ‘’the children look like bear’s cubs’’. Here, the poet has compared the children with bear’s cubs. The following line also contains the metaphor.
4. Repetition – Repetition is the most effective and commonly used poetic device used in poetry. Whenever a phrase, word, or image is used in the poem, repetition is made. The repeated use of vowels and consonants is also made. The repeated use of the word, ‘’ boring’’ was made by the poet.
5. Irony – The poet uses it to bring the contrast between reality and expectations. In the poem, it is used in the line, ‘’My cakes that seem too small/ When I eat of them myself/ Are yet too large to give away.’’
Summary of the Poem – A Legend of the Northland
A Legend of the Northland is folklore told to the children to instil this moral lesson. The poem talks about a little woman who was punished by saint Peter for refusing to give him any one of the cakes that she had baked. In the story, Saint Peter reaches the cottage of the little woman after travelling around the world. He was very tired and hungry. He pleaded to the woman to give him a piece of cake.
The woman was so calculating that she didn’t give him the piece of cake she was already having just because she thought it was quite big and costly to give him. So, she baked another smaller and thinner cake for her guest. The greedy woman got so blind in the urge of earning money that she didn’t offer this thin cake either, considering it to be too big to offer someone for free. So, she made another attempt and made an extremely ugly wafer out of the very small quantity of dough, which was again too large to give away. Such greed ultimately made St.Peter angry and disheartened.
He was on the verge of fainting due to hunger. Saint Peter asked her to give him one cake but the little woman’s greed and selfishness did not allow her to do so.
While baking the smallest and thinnest of cakes, she felt that the cake was too big to give away for free. The behaviour of the woman provokes Saint Peter who curses her and changes her into a woodpecker. Saint Peter teaches a lesson to all humans that we must not be miserly and stingy and must help the needy if we are capable of doing so.
Explanation by Stanzas
1. Stanza 1 and Stanza 2
Away Away, away in the North Land …………. In their funny, furry clothes.
In the first two stanzas of the poem, the poet describes the place where the story had originated. The story originated in the cold region of Northland where the days are short and nights are very long in winter. The people of the Northland couldn’t sleep at night due to extreme cold conditions. When the snow falls in Northland, the people living there tie their beautiful reindeers to sledges to travel. The children wear warm, furry clothes that make them look like bear cubs.
2. Stanza 3 and Stanza 4
They tell them a curious story …… Just as he did, you know.
The third and fourth stanzas of the poem tells us that in Northland, parents narrate their children a story. The poet does not think that the story is true but still tells the tale. The poet believes that it contains an important lesson which we all must learn. The poet then begins the tale. Once, Saint Peter lived on Earth as a human. He travelled the world teaching about God.
3. Stanza 5 and Stanza 6
He came to the door of a cottage, ….. To give him a single one.
In the fifth and sixth stanzas of the poem, while travelling around the world, Saint Peter came to a cottage door. In the cottage, a little woman was baking cakes in the fireplace. Saint Peter had been fasting for the whole day and he was very hungry and tired. The day was almost over. So, Saint Peter asked the woman to give him a cake from her store of cakes.
4. Stanza 7 and Stanza 8
So she made a very little cake, …… As large as the first had done.
In the seventh and eighth stanzas of the poem, the woman started baking cake for Saint Peter but before she could give it to him, she felt that it was too big to give away. So, the woman went to make another small cake but when she turned it over, the cake looked as big as the first one.
5. Stanza 9 and Stanza 10
Then she took a tiny scrap of dough, ………. So she put them on the shelf.
In the ninth and tenth stanzas of the poem, the woman took a small piece of dough and rolled it as thin as she could. The cake baked from it was as thin as a wafer but the woman could not give that also to Saint Peter. She said that her cakes seemed too small when she would eat them. However, those cakes became too large to give away for free. Consequently, she put all the cakes on the shelf and did not give any cake to Saint Peter.
6. Stanza 11 and Stanza 12
Then good Saint Peter grew angry, ………. And fire to keep you warm.
In the eleventh and twelfth stanzas of the poem, the selfish behaviour of the woman made Saint Peter angry. He was very tired and hungry. It is not easy for a compassionate and kind saint like Saint Peter to become angry but the actions of the woman had been able to do so. Hence, Saint Peter told her that she was very selfish. She did not deserve to be a human being and live a comfortable life with good food to eat, a house to live in with fire to keep her warm.
7. Stanza 13 and Stanza 14
Now, you shall build as the birds do, …….. For she was changed to a bird.
In the thirteenth and fourteenth stanzas, Saint Peter cursed the woman and transformed her into a bird. As a bird, the woman would now have to build her own nest and get her own food. To get food, she must dig holes into the hard dry wood. As a result, the woman went out through the chimney of her house without speaking a word. She has now changed into a woodpecker.
8. Stanza 15 and Stanza 16
She had a scarlet cap on her head, ……. Boring and boring for food.
As a human, the little woman wore a red cap. When she was converted into a woodpecker, only her red cap remained and all her clothes had burned. In other words, the woodpecker has a red head but the rest of its body is black. The poet then says that since then, every schoolboy has seen the woodpecker i.e. the little woman in the forest. She had denied offering a piece of cake to a helpless, hungry human being. She had to face the consequences for her insensitivity, inhuman behaviour by roaming for food in the forests for the rest of her life. She still lives there digging into the dry and hard wood to look for food.
the woodpecker has a red head but the rest of its body is black. The poet then says that since then, every schoolboy has seen the woodpecker i.e. the little woman in the forest. She had denied offering a piece of cake to a helpless, hungry human being. She had to face the consequences for her insensitivity, inhuman behaviour by roaming for food in the forests for the rest of her life. She still lives there digging into the dry and hard wood to look for food.
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
- How has the Northland been described in the poem?
In the poem, Northland has been described as a cold polar region. The days are shorter and the nights are longer in this place. People of Northland cannot sleep all night because of the extremely long nights and bitter cold. At the place, people use sledges pulled by reindeers whenever the land is covered in snow. Further, people wear furry warm clothes to protect themselves from the cold.
- Who was Saint Peter? How did he reach the little woman’s cottage?
Saint Peter was one of the most honourable disciples or apostle of Jesus Christ. He travelled from place to place to preach what God had said. He reached the little woman’s cottage after travelling for a whole day while fasting.
- Did the little woman give any cake to Saint Peter? Why?
The little woman did not give any cake to Saint Peter because she was selfish and greedy. She did bake three cakes to give it to Saint Peter but felt that they were too big to be given away for free. So, she put all three of them on the shelf and did not give anything to the tired saint.
- Why was Saint Peter angry with the little woman?
Saint Peter was angry with the little woman because of her selfish and greedy nature. She refused to give him a cake to eat because of her greed. He believed that such behaviour should not be a characteristic of a human who lives a luxurious life.