The Village Blacksmith

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Pages:
1. The Poem
2. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
3. Original 1839 Manuscript
4. The Children’s Gift to Longfellow
5. Village Blacksmith Art

The Children’s Gift to Longfellow
by Andy Juell, published in the September 2001 Issue of Anvil Magazine

Longfellow’s blacksmith shop was more than poetic license.  It sat on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the proprietor was one Dexter Pratt.  And yes, the “spreading chestnut tree” stood out front of the shop.

Brattle Street was widened in 1876, and the tree fell victim to progress.  However, the children of Cambridge, as well as the town, took the wood and had a chair produced from it in honor of the poet.  It was presented to him on his 72nd birthday.

The chair is described as a “black-stained Eastlake-style armchair” made from the wood of the “Spreading Chestnut Tree” by H. Edgar Hartwell of Boston.  The seat was tufted leather, the seat rail carved in the gothic or black-letter style with a portion of the verse from the original poem etched around the rails:

And children coming home from school,
Look in at the open door,
And catch the burning sparks that fly,
Like chaff from a threshing floor.

The chair was presented to Longfellow on February 22, 1879, by the children of Cambridge — a few of which probably “caught those burning sparks” in their youth. The chair currently resides in the first-floor study at Longfellow House, at the Longfellow National Historic Site on Brattle Street in Cambridge under the care of the National Park Service.

Longfellow was so impressed with the gift that he composed the following poem for the children of Cambridge as a way of saying thanks.

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To the Children of Cambridge
Who presented to me on my Seventy-second Birthday,
February 27, 1879, this Chair, made from the
Wood of the Village Blacksmith’s Chestnut Tree

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From My Arm-Chair

Am I a king, that I should call my own
This splendid ebon throne?
Or by what reason, or what right divine,
Can I proclaim it mine?

Only perhaps, by right divine of song
It may to me belong;
Only because the spreading chestnut tree
Of old was sung by me.

Well I remember it in all its prime,
When in the summer-time
The affluent foliage of its branches made
A cavern of cool shade.

There by the blacksmith’s forge, beside the street,
Its blossoms white and sweet
Enticed the bees, until it seemed alive,
And murmured like a hive.

And when the winds of autumn, with a shout,
Tossed its great arms about,
The shining chestnuts, bursting from the sheath,
Dropped to the ground beneath.

And now some fragments of its branches bare,
Shaped as a stately chair,
Have by my hearthstone found a home at last,
And a whisper of the past.

The Danish king could not in all his pride
Repel the ocean tide,
But, seated in this chair, I can in rhyme
Roll back the tide of Time.

I see again, as one in vision sees,
The blossoms and the bees,
And hear the children’s voices shout and call,
And the brown chestnuts fall.

I see the smithy with its fires aglow,
I hear the bellows blow,
And the shrill hammers on the anvil beat
The iron white with heat!

And thus, dear children, have ye made for me
This day a jubilee,
And to my more than three-score years and ten
Brought back my youth again.

The heart hath its own memory, like the mind,
And in it are enshrined
The precious keepsakes, into which is wrought
The giver’s loving thought.

Only your love and your remembrance could
Give life to this dead wood,
And make these branches, leafless now so long,
Blossom again in song.

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printable version

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