A Legend of the Northland Summary by Phoebe Cary

The poem is criticism is the selfish and self-serving attitude of people who dismiss the weak and needy. They are so consumed in their greed that they rather ridicule the needy than help them. 

Story in Northland

The poetess begins by describing the place called Northland as cold and dry. The wintry nights are so taxing that usually, people spend them awake unable to find warmth. The people do enjoy the snow though, playing and tending to the animals. Often the kids are covered in clothes that are heavier their bodyweight making them appear as small bears. 

Now the poetess introduces a popular legend on Northland. The legend might be unreal but it still carries an important moral lesson so she begins to narrate it. The legend speaks of St. Paul who travelled war and wide to preach his version of religion.

On one of his journeys, he suffers from pangs of hunger and decides to ask a good woman to feed him like a noble Christian. The woman is a bake (cook) and decides to honour his request.

A Greedy Woman

She decided to bake one for him but as it baked, selfishness clouded her good intentions. She thinks that the bread is too big and thick to be wasted as a charity. Consequently, she decides to bale another one, a smaller one.

Unfortunately, her greed is more powerful than her good judgment and every time the bread is almost finished she would prepare another one, even smaller. In the end, she cannot even find enough compassion to part with the smallest piece of bread.

Saint is Enraged

This drama enrages the Saint who loses his patience with the woman. He put a spell on her that turns her into a bird. He commands her that she take all the comforts she enjoyed as a human for granted and would now have to work for everything as a bird.

She would have to build her nest for warmth and scrounge out small worms from trees for food. Hearing this, the bird panics and flies through the chimney of the oven. Coming out of the chimney, it is covered in soot. Its head is red due to the same coloured cap of the woman.

Greed is Curse

The poetess now remembers that people can still see that bird searching for food in Northland. She believes that the bird and the legend serve as a reminder of her greed and to stay clear of such toxic beliefs of self-service when there are people who suffer from absolute scarcity and deprivation.

Our wealth and luxuries should not hold us back from helping others in need. She advises her readers to learn and apply the lesson of kindness in their own lives. Even though selfish people may never transform into birds, they may have a far worse end i.e. grumpy, old and cold-hearted humans.

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