Oct 21, 2015

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the Blacksmiths with Brawny Arms

One of the poems parodied on Rocky and Bullwinkle was "The Village Smithy," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1840):

Under a spreading chestnut-tree the village smithy stands.
The smith, a mighty man is he, with large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms are strong as iron bands.

Actually, it was parodied everywhere, in cartoons and comedy sketches throughout my childhood.   It must have been a recitation assignment for generations of squirming schoolkids, and a hated memory for comedy writers of the 1960s.

If you read the entire poem, you find that the smithy has a wife and kids, but I only ever heard the part about how the village children come around every day to gawk at his muscles.

I could relate.

Although the poem doesn't really have a plot -- the blacksmith flexes his muscles, children gawk, he goes to church -- it was spun into movies in 1897, 1908, 1913, 1922, and 1936.

In the days before factories, the blacksmith had the job of forging tools and other instruments from iron. There were several blacksmith gods, including Vulcan in Graeco-Roman mythology and Ilmarinen in the Finnish Kalevala.

Unfortunately, they rarely worked shirtless -- too many sparks.

But early cinematographer Eadweard Muybridge filmed two naked blacksmiths for his study of Animal Locomotion.

There are still blacksmiths today.  They even have World Championships.  40 blacksmiths from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Britain competed in the 2014 Horseshoeing Contest in Eureka, Nevada.  Trey Green of Lakeside, California was the winner.

Looks like they still have "large and sinewy hands."

See also: James Whitcomb Riley: Even a Dull, Depressing Poet Can Be Gay