In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate; blessing and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.
Several weeks ago I received a unique wedding invitation card. It was the first time in my life I came across a ‘bahasa Melayu’ (Malay) card that had an English poem written in it.
The poem was beautiful, I love it; it touched my heart. The poem’s title was ‘The Arrow and the Song’ and was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Reciting the poem, slowly word by word, memories of yesteryears started reminiscing inside my mind. Yes, I remembered reading this poem in English class when I was in secondary school.
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.
Who’s Longfellow? Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, notes: “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882) was an American educator and poet whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and "Evangeline". He was also the first American to translate Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy and was one of the five Fireside Poets.
“Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine, then part of Massachusetts, and studied at Bowdoin College. After spending time in Europe he became a professor at Bowdoin and, later, at Harvard College. His first major poetry collections were Voices of the Night (1839) and Ballads and Other Poems (1841). Longfellow retired from teaching in 1854 to focus on his writing, living the remainder of his life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a former headquarters of George Washington. His first wife, Mary Potter, died in 1835 after a miscarriage. His second wife, Frances Appleton, died in 1861 after sustaining burns from her dress catching fire. After her death, Longfellow had difficulty writing poetry for a time and focused on his translation. He died in 1882.
“Longfellow predominantly wrote lyric poems which are known for their musicality and which often presented stories of mythology and legend. He became the most popular American poet of his day and also had success overseas. He has been criticized, however, for imitating European styles and writing specifically for the masses.”
I remembered when we in English class some 35 years ago, our teacher asked us to write down the meaning of the poem. Since we were ‘green’ then, many of us concluded that this poem was about friendship; true friendship could never be broken just like the arrow mentioned!
While writing this article, I smiled and laughed, recollecting how easy we had jumped into that conclusion. I didn’t remember what our teacher concluded about the poem because I was daydreaming.
To understand the poem, I made a search in the internet and found some interesting findings.
A fan of Longfellow notes: “Here we have a couple of symbols flying into the air: an arrow and a song. The arrow, a deadly weapon, might symbolize anything bad, but since both objects are travelling, let's call it bad words said about someone. A song always symbolizes something good: happiness perhaps, but to make it parallel, let's says good words said about someone.
“See where this is going now?
“The arrow lodges in a mighty oak, but the arrow doesn't break - just as bad words (rumours, for example) are very hard to stop, once they are started. The song stops, too, but in a good place. And isn't it true that when someone says something nice about us, it does our heart good?”
Billy from United States notes: “I learned this poem when I was in primary school and now at 75 year of age, it comes to my mind friendship has no boundary or specific destinations. It is for and to all.”
Henry from Canada says: “In this poem...I've got moral lessons, even though I could hurt people (we are not perfectly made), thus, it just only reminding us people that we should be careful what we say and what we do! Sometimes our patience could be gone!!! But here in poem shows that there is forgiveness if we have mistaken...If you have some of angriness in your heart just let go! Just say to God He'll take the fight and win it for you!!!”
Jeff writes: “In the first line of the first stanza, the word arrow represents a friendship because like arrows, friendships can fly a far distance. The second line of the first stanza, “It fell to earth, I knew not where;” signifies that what the arrow symbolizes has been forgotten or lost from sight. The last two lines in the first stanza signify that things can change in a blink of an eye because if you blink you can literally miss the flight of an arrow.
“The word song in the first line of the second stanza can represent many things. It can represent memories, dreams or rumours because if any of these things are spoken aloud, like a song, others will learn of them. I also noticed that the first two stanzas were very similar to each other and that lead me to believe that the arrow and the song both symbolize the same things. Also the second line of the first and second stanzas, “It fell to earth, I knew not where” represents that you can have no idea of where certain things may end up and they may bear unexpected consequences. The last two lines of stanza two confirm this. It also represents that a small act of kindness can convince a person to do an act of kindness to another and so on and so forth.
“In the first sentence of the last stanza, I believe they choose the word oak because oaks are solid, strong and in this poem are used to symbolize a person’s soul. Also in the second sentence of the first stanza, “I found the arrow still unbroke;” signifies that they found that the friend from the first stanza was still their friend, no matter what disagreement they may have had. Finally, the last two lines of the third stanza states “And the song, from beginning to end/I found again in the heart of a friend.” These lines imply that seeing or talking to a friend can revitalize hopes, goals, and dreams.
“The title also supports my theory. Since an arrow is intended to be harmful, this may be the reason that the friendship was “killed”. Also, since songs are meant to be meaningful, pure and beautiful, this can easily represent memories, dreams or goals, since they are meant to be meaningful, pure and beautiful.”
Patrick Steeves from Canada notes: “This poem is about the good and bad things we do in our lives, although we lose track of them. The arrow represents bad and the song represents good. Although it’s impossible to keep track of all of your deeds, many will come back to you. The bad deed pierced the recipient, represented by the oak, marking it, and still whole. The good deed was found in the heart of a friend, and is remembered entirely as well. This may mean that a close friend has held it in their heart, or that the good deed has resulted in a new friend. Both can transcend time, and although forgotten by the sender, remembered by the receiver.”
Gigi T Salvador writes: “This poem is about the bad things and the good things which we do not realize affect people in a positive as well as negative way. The author realized that these "things" can survive the passage of time.”
A poem could give different meaning to different persons. From the many opinions, I love this suggestion: “The arrow lodges in a mighty oak, but the arrow doesn't break - just as bad words (rumours, for example) are very hard to stop, once they are started. The song stops, too, but in a good place. And isn't it true that when someone says something nice about us, it does our heart good?”
In our own Parliament sitting recently bad and foul words were spoken; friends and leaders in the same party had suddenly become foes. Friends too suddenly turned into ‘monsters’, stabbing their former ‘mentor’ this time from front, not from behind!
How true for Longfellow when he wrote that the arrow shot (bad words) could not be retrieved, it had pierced into an oak (heart) and would remain there for a long, long period. People, what’s more the accused would remember the damaging words, perhaps until they die!