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Featured Poem: The Builders by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 25th July 2011

A week on, I’m still finding that I’m utterly riveted by the fantastic Poetry Tags project; initially striking me as a somewhat unusual (I don’t think that weird or strange is the accurate way in which to describe it) way to display and disseminate poetry to the masses, but after a short amount of time realising that it actually makes complete sense – given the personal nature and ability to make impact that both fashion and poetry hold – and is not just a fad, but something very wonderful and inspiring indeed. Just after first reading about the project, I came across The Builders by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and was especially struck by the opening stanza: ‘All are architects of Fate, Working in these walls of time/Some with massive deeds and great, Some with ornaments of rhyme.’ I deemed this really quite apt for describing it, mainly for the phrase ‘ornaments of rhyme’ – demonstrating the decorative quality of clothing and also being an eloquent way of labelling (excuse the pun) poetry; although of course it is to be absorbed rather than just looked at, as pretty as it can be. But also because these lines emphasise how any act that is undertaken by anyone - especially those that have the effect of giving something more that is on the surface -  be they small or wide-scale, are each and every one of the utmost importance.

Though projects like Poetry Tags might be conceived as mainly ornamental, the size of the deed is perhaps deceptive. Though it may make much of ‘showing off’ poetry, there is a strong and significant message stitched into the seams. As a stand-alone project, and viewed from the spectrum of statement of art rather than literary advancement, it doesn't seem like a feat that will make a lot of difference. But that’s where the contradiction lies. Building a widespread appreciation and appreciation for poetry takes considerable time, and each apparently minor task is vital to creating a solid construction. We’re aware that creating a reading revolution is a gradual process and you have to work from the ground up with what materials you have. You may not be so handy with a needle and thread, you don’t even have to go to great lengths dreaming up your own unique and quirky project; a difference can be made by the little deeds we can all achieve, like sharing a story or reading a poem to someone (or a few people). And such a message is what is at the heart of this particular poem; something to remember when you feel that your actions, whatever they relate to, are insignificant and matter little in the grand scheme of things: it actually stands that nothing should be underestimated. From the roughest sketches and shakiest foundations can come the greatest of things…(and also, the ‘building’ of a love for literature is far less intrusive and disruptive than that of actual physical labour.)

It’s little surprise something so inspirational, something that calls for each of us to make the most of ourselves and contribute our own individual talents to the world comes from Longfellow, who had a long career as a teacher as well as being a poet, and keenly displayed a considerable amount of ambition: statements such as “The fact is, I most eagerly aspire after future eminence in literature, my whole soul burns most ardently after it, and every earthly thought centres in it” demonstrating it clearly. While pertaining slightly to his didactic style of writing, it’s hard not to feel uplifted and reassured by the notion that good deeds, even if not especially ‘massive’ ones, will not go unseen and instead steadfastly support those that are more substantial.

The Builders

All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.

Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.

For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.

Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.

In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.

Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
Beautiful, entire, and clean.

Else our lives are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Broken stairways, where the feet
Stumble as they seek to climb.

Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall to-morrow find its place.

Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

2 thoughts on “Featured Poem: The Builders by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Slender Thread says:

Hi Lisa
Just wanted to acknowledge your weekly writing and say how much I enjoy and look forward to it each week. It must be quite a commitment. Thank you.
Slender Thread

Thank you for this post! This was my piece back when I joined a declamation contest when I was in third grade 🙂 I remember…

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