Maine’s mountains seem like lonely islands
rising from the peneplain, assuming maybe
grandeur just because they’re not
surrounded by competing neighbor peaks.
A few are clustered—Mt. Desért, Mahoosucs–
but none range so auspiciously collective as
The White Mountains of New Hampshire,
The Green Mountains of Vermont…

…”monadnocks” they are called, American
for the Abnaki meaning “solitary height.”
For centuries they’ve held their ground
providing wary outlooks to the land and sea,
being the initial, or the final, weary challenge of
the Appalachian Trail, the highest point of
the Atlantic seaboard until Rio de Janeiro,
and the first to greet the sunrise in the USA.

These mountains each acquired a moniker–
Abnaki, French or English–dubbed by those
who walked and worked the “maine-iac” terrain.
How else explain Picked Chicken Hill, Misery Knob,
Pocomoonshine, St. Sauveur, or Toenail Ridge?
Yet, in 1959, Maine’s legislature deemed
there was a need for a collective name, so
“The Longfellow Mountains,” they en masse became.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Maine.
Now all its mountains claim the cachet of
his poetry and fame.  What would he say
today–in grateful tetrametric trochees–
being honored so?  It’s just as well, perhaps,
he does not know.  It seems his name,
collectivizing mountains, never did catch on,
though it appears, sometimes, on mountain maps.

31 responses »

  1. Longfellow and Maine seems like an oxymoron. Longfellow? I’d have guessed Massachusetts. I see this more as a prose-poem but would have to hear you read it to be sure. Add an audio component to the site?

    • Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine (Maine was a “district” of Massachusetts until it became a State),He attended Bowdoin College in Maine, and became a professor there. Later he taught at Harvard. When he retired, he moved into the house in Cambridge.

      I don’t consider this a prose poem. Whether it’s a poem at all is arguable. It is blank verse, meant to be heard as read—or not, depending on the reader.

      What you said about Maine/Longfellow being oxymoronic…..I’ll ask some descendants of Evangeline and Hiawatha who live here, and see what they say…..

  2. I didn’t realize Maine’s mtns were named for Longfellow! 🙂 Learned something new today.

    I did have a turtle when I was young that I named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – but only because my mother wouldn’t let me name him Harvey Wallbanger. (I begin to suspect I’m the source of several of my mother’s gray hairs.)

    • I once lived in a house where there was a tiny pet turtle (named Myrtle, of course, though I don’t know how it was decided a girl) and this turtle used to escape her “home” and fall down onto the shelf where the liquor was kept. That was in the days when the cocktail called a Harvey Wallbanger was all the rage…(You see the association with your turtle?) Poor Myrtle was short lived; I think she was unhappy with the fact they had painted her shell bright colors at the pet shop.

  3. I find this piece very poetic especially the alliteration; I think that’s why Marta suggested an audio rendition. I agree with her it is good aloud – and that’s the ultimate test for a poem. There is a lot to learn here about Maine, mountains and Longfellow. I like to think that Longfellow would have been gratified by the naming of the mountains and also by this poem, after all he took a shot at Keats, Shakespeare and others!

    • What a delightful reminder about Longfellow’s poems, “Keats,” and “Shakespeare”! Especially where Longfellow writes of Endymion: “Here lieth one whose name was writ in water…” How ironic that Longfellow’s name on the Maine mountains may as well have been written in water….although, of course, his name as poet lives on.
      I’m glad you sense the verse here, too. Strictly speaking, blank verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter. I went not so much for forced iambic, but rather the natural iambic of ordinary English speech….and my usual fondness for the sentence as opposed to the phrase. Thank you so much, Jane.

  4. Love the casual understated, half-amused or bemused tone, quite appropriate to the rumination. I’m happy to say it confirms by complicating my thesis about your poems as bold inventions that challenge diversity and raw or fact- based subject matter with metrical and other figural schemes. The result as here is a lively singularity of sound — tone, pitch, speed, rhythm, etc.

    • And you’ll be happy to know I refrained from adding a moral or caveat: remember: poets may care about mountains, but mountains don’t care about poets. Thanks for your comment, Tom. I take great interest in what you say—and how you say it.

  5. Wonderful read – we used to go to Acadia, Mt. Desert Island every summer for a few days when we lived in Maine. Boy do I miss it back there.

    • I didn’t realize you had a connection to Maine, Mary… and now you’re “from away”, as they say here.You really can’t get any finer than Mt. Desért Island, I think.

      (By the way, I know you are on overload sometimes, with your huge number of followers, but there’s an art project ongoing that I want to tell you about. Sheila Creighton, in London,, Ontario, is a marvelous photographer who decided, after reading my poem To A Tulip, to follow the progression of a tulip’s life into old age and death with a series of black and white photographs that promises to be amazing. Just thought you might be interested. There’s a ping back to her blog at the end of comments under my tulip poem.)

      • Ah yes, Maine – the way life is suppose to be. Lived there all during the 1990’s and loved the whole spirit of the place. Although TX is wonderful with its own special nuances. I’ll go over and check out Sheila’s blog, the project sounds real interesting, thanks for the heads up.

  6. An interesting walk through the mountains of Maine here, nicely rendered. I think we were talking about waterfall names not so long back, were we not? Some of those mountain names are unreal – whatever happened on Misery Knob, I wonder? And somehow it seems as if a bit of Spanish crept in there too – pocomoonshine – something to do with prohibitionism, I wonder…

    • Oh yes, the mountain names are fully as interesting as the waterfall names we discussed. “Miseree” was an Abnaki word meaning “good”, but the English-speaking lumbermen of the 1830’s spelled it Misery, completely distorting the original meaning. The name is attached to a long ridge and the highest point is called Misery Knob.
      There doesn’t seem to be any agreement on Pocomoonshine. Fanny Hardy Eckstorm, the main researcher of such things hereabouts, feels strongly that it’s a combination of the Penobscot prefix “pok” and “maquozeaben” meaning lake…….and you can imagine what the early English-speaking trappers and lumbermen were moved to do with that….they changed it to moonshine…..and I do like your conjecture as to why!

      (Bonus: not far from my home is Mount Albany, named for the guy who was granted most of the real estate around here in 1664: James Stuart, Duke of Albany, who later became King James II of England.)

  7. There are layers and layers of romance here Cynthia. First Americans, the Stuarts, English settlers, Longfellow and the ancient mountains themselves – marvellous!

  8. What a wonderful poem also giving us information about the mountains Cynthia. . I devoured it on first reading and will read it again. I expect this would be lovely to listen to, scope for lots of expression, something that I don’t unfortunately possess. I don’t know if this is a skill or just comes naturally to some and not to others. If it’s the latter then Im scuppered! 😊

    • I would be extremely upset if you were “scuppered”! I think it’s both a skill and a talent, and a surplus of one can make up a deficit of the other. I worked in community theatre for a time, and also was a teacher, so those experiences helped. Speaking privately doesn’t prepare you for speaking publicly. We have a program/competition here in the USA called “Poetry Out Loud”–much like a national spelling bee, only it’s teenagers reciting poetry selected from a list of “the best” poems in English, old and new. The first time I watched and heard the Maine finalists on TV I was moved to tears. Of course they are coached and rehearse a lot. Had I more energy, I’d get involved with the administration of that program. Gosh, Christine, you got me thinking good thoughts again this morning…Thank you!

      • Im pleased I gave you food for thought as the saying goes! I have a friend who I recently met at the writing group I attend every Friday. Coincidentally she also has MS. She used to be an actor (actress? – dont know which is correct these days!). She is also an extremely good poet. We were discussing the subject of reading our poems aloud and I told her of my voice which I find devoid of expression, unless I encounter a large spider. So she has offered to coach me if I would like. This should be both beneficial and fun, as neither of us goes out much. I am a little more mobile than she is so I will go to her house. To coin another phrase, “watch this space”. 😊

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