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“The Arrow and the Song” is a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem is a metaphorical poem, where the poet compares a song to an arrow shot in the sky. The poet symbolises the arrow as a moment of hate and hostility. The song is a symbol of love and familiarity. The poet contrasts these two ideas with regard to their reach and timelessness.
About the poet
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in 1807 in Maine, America. He was an American poet and teacher. He was heavily influenced by writers like John Keats, Charles Dickinson, Dante Alighieri and Goethe. He was one of the first poets to fully translate Dante Alighieri’ epic poem “Paradise Lost”. He composed many poems during his lifetime. Some of his major works were “The Song of Hiawatha” and “Paul Revere’s Ride”.
The poem is a lyric poem and is written in rhyming couplets. It consists of 3 quatrains, a stanza has 4 lines each.
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.
The speaker begins by talking about the time he shot an arrow and it went flying. Here the arrow symbolizes harsh words and emotions of hate. The speaker did not follow where it went and thus could not tell where it struck. The speaker did not have the eyesight to follow the trajectory of the arrow. The speaker says that the arrow was so fast that he could not follow its path.
Here the poet paints a picture of shooting an arrow. The trajectory of the arrow is indiscernible by sight alone. The poet just shoots the arrow and then does not make the effort to see where it strikes. Here the “arrow” is a symbol for harsh words said during arguments. They are sharp and swift. Once they are said, their trajectory can not be mapped. The speaker will not be able to see the effect they would have on the other person. The poet focuses not on the words but on the feelings behind harsh words, i.e. the emotions of hatred and spite.
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?
The same way, the speaker sang a song. The song was breathed into the air and just like the arrow it flew into the wind. The poet can not find the path of the song either. Just like the arrow, the fight of the song too can not be observed. In the same way that his eyes could not follow the path of the arrow, the speaker says that no one can follow the flight of the song.
Here the poet talks about unleashing a song and leaving it to fly away. The same way that he could not map out where the arrow would land, he can not do so with the song either. The “song” here symbolizes loving words said to a partner or a friend. It falls to the ground and the poet is unable to find out how it was received.
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.
The speaker comes across an old oak after a long time. He finds his arrow as well as the song stuck in it. He says that the arrow was stuck in the tree. While the arrow was struck, it was still unbroken. And the song too was unbroken. The speaker says that the song was actually found in the heart of an old friend.
In the climax of the poem, the poet finds the mark of both the arrow and the song to be an old oak tree. The arrow and the song are both present in the oak, complete and unbroken. The unbrokeness of the arrow symbolizes the indelible mark that harsh words leave on the hearts of our closed ones. The words stay unbroken within their hearts for years to come.
In the same sense, the song or loving words are also timeless and stay complete within the hearts of our loved ones. The song is eternal just like the harsh words.