The Arrow and the Song

The Arrow and the Song

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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.

Summary of The Arrow and the Song

  • Popularity of “The Arrow and the Song”: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a well-known American poet and educator, wrote ‘The Arrow and the Song’. The poem is a famous lyrical about the impacts of a song and its comparison with the arrow shot in the air. It was first published in 1845. The poem demonstrates the metaphoric journey of an arrow and a song. It also illustrates the impact of words on the lives of others.
  • “The Arrow and the Song” As a Representation of Wonder: The poem is a comparison of an arrow shot in the air and a song sung in the open. It shows how both disappear quickly with far-reaching impacts. The poet narrates how he once shot an arrow and sang a song, and it was not possible to locate their flight. Later, he found both in a perfect condition after a long time; the arrow in an oak tree and his song in the heart of his friends. Symbolically, the arrow may represent unkind or harsh words, whereas the song stands for kindness and pleasing words. Both went away from the speaker once released, and both stayed in the world around him, unbroken. Thus, the poem represents the permanence of joy in the form of a song and the impact of hatred in the form of an arrow.
  • Major Themes in “The Arrow and the Song”: Joy, the impacts of hateful words and our actions constitute the major themes of the poem. The poet, very artistically, presents the life of mankind in this short poem. He says that whatever a person does or say never goes in vain. His words and actions possess the power to uplift, hurt and please. He explains that we put so many things in the world, which we think would never get back to us. Hence, we must use our words wisely.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “The Arrow and the Song”

Literary devices are tools used by writers to enhance the meanings of their texts. It also allows readers to interpret a text in multiple ways. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has also employed some literary devices in this poem to express his ideas. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sounds of /a/ /o/ in “I shot an arrow into the air” and the sound of /i/ in “Could not follow it in its flight”.
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /l/ in “Could not follow it in its flight”.
  3. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has used the imagery in the poem such as, “I shot an arrow into the air”, “I found the arrow, still unbroken” and “It fell to earth, I knew not where.”
  4. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession such as the sound of /l/ in “Long, long afterward, in an oak”.
  5. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities to them symbolic meanings different from the literal meanings. ‘Arrow’ symbolizes rude/offensive words and ‘song’ is a symbol of kindness and pacifying words.
  6. Personification: Personification is to give human characteristics to inanimate objects. For example, It fell to earth, I knew not where”, as if the song is human that can fall.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “The Arrow and the Song”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are three four-lined stanzas in this poem.
  2. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here, each stanza is a quatrain.
  3. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the AABB rhyme scheme throughout the poem.
  4. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “sight/flight”, “oak/unbroken” and “song/strong.”
  5. Repetition: There is a repetition of the line “It fell to earth, I knew not where” which has created a musical quality in the poem.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used to describe any personal experience of regret after hurting someone unintentionally.  These could also be used to teach the importance of our actions, especially speech.

“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.”