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Fire of Driftwood

Poetry is often a difficult type of literature to really enjoy. In fact, it seems like most of the people you talk to don’t like poetry at all. They give lots of reasons for not liking it, and many of those reasons do seem valid. Some say that they don’t like poetry because the words don’t have any impact upon them. Others say that they just can’t really picture anything when they read the poems, and so they in turn become bored. Still others claim that because they don’t see an important theme in the work, they don’t feel as if it is relevant to their life, and therefore it has no real meaning to them. In reality, there do seem to be many poems that have the “problems” that these people identify. It is no wonder people don’t like poetry very much. However, one particular poem, “The Fire of Driftwood” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is of particular interest because it is almost exactly the opposite of the type of poem that these people describe. In fact, the reason it is so good is because it has none of those weaknesses that those other poems often have. The words have impact, it is easy to visualize what the poet writes about, and the theme is relevant to almost everybody. In other words, the diction, the imagery, and the theme of the piece all in their own way make “The Fire of Driftwood” a great poem that is both powerful and enjoyable.

Imagery is one of the first aspects that make Longfellow’s poem so great. Imagery is important in this poem because it evokes emotion among the readers, putting them in the right mindset to further understand the poem’s meaning. It allows readers to connect with an image of something they know well and apply it to a message within the poem. An excellent example can be seen in the tenth stanza, where it reads “The windows, rattling in their frames, the ocean, roaring up the beach, the gusty blast, the bickering flames, all mingled vaguely in our speech.” Reading about the rattling windows, roaring ocean, and bickering flames makes a reader think of loud and chaotic events. Such noise and disorder is quite distracting. The phrase “mingled vaguely in our speech” allows the reader to realize that the chaos mentioned earlier is distracting the two friends from each other. Thus, the reader can conclude that the two friends have many distractions lodging themselves between the two of them, not permitting the friends to be as close as they once were. This shows the importance of the imagery within the poem because the reader can truly understand how the two friends are distracted from one another once they connect the picture of the chaos described in the stanza with the friends. Without understanding the trouble in the relationship, there’s no understanding the poem. In this way, imagery is clearly one of the most important aspects of Longfellow’s poem.

Diction is another of the strongest attributes in Longfellow’s work. In this piece, the wise use of diction is incredibly noticeable because the reader is able to truly feel the words and understand the point but at the same time is able to enjoy a beautiful poem with character. This work has great diction in the fact that the words come across easily and smoothly, a true piece of art, while still being packed with depth and information. Such artfulness can easily be seen in stanza six, when Longfellow writes “The first slight swerving of the heart, that words are powerless to express, and leave it still unsaid in part, or say it in too great excess.” The sound and pattern of the words flow flawlessly of a speaker’s tongue, giving the work strength and beauty. The lines aren’t just pretty, however, they truly hold a lot. This stanza basically states that the narrator cannot use words to explain how he feels about the friendship because he either says too much about the same thing or he says not nearly enough. It can be thought of as interesting that in a stanza with such good word choice, the narrator is saying he cannot find the right words; it gives the poem some character. In this work, diction is a strong aspect because it makes the poem a memorable and enjoyable piece of art.

The last of the three greatest ingredients in Longfellow’s piece is an important and universal theme. The theme is absolutely one of the strongest attributes in this poem because Longfellow puts into words the feelings everyone will eventually be overcome with yet cannot express themselves. Longfellow takes the emotions and pain of the separation between friends and turns it into a beautiful work of art to be read and understood by all who read it. The theme can clearly be seen in the fifth stanza, where it reads “And all that fills the hearts of friends, when first they feel, with secret pain, their lives thenceforth have separate ends, and never can be one again.” Here, Longfellow is addressing the stabbing pain friends feel when they first realize that they are drifting apart and will soon separate completely, never again being as close as they once were. This pain is felt by almost everyone and is often associated with high school and college graduations; however, it can appear many other times in life. This feeling is such a strong, dominant emotion that it’s something most of us will never forget. The fact that Longfellow is able to use words and rhythm and beats to get that feeling across is phenomenal and the reason the poem is so famous and unforgettable.

“The Fire of Driftwood” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is an enjoyable and powerful piece of art due to its strong imagery, diction, and theme. The imagery allows the readers to make connections, so that the reader understands the message within the poem. The diction gives the work beauty and makes it quite an enjoyable read. The theme is universal, and Longfellow puts into words the unforgettable feeling that most of us will never be able to describe. These attributes make Longfellow’s “The Fire of Driftwood” a great poem that is both powerful and an enjoyable read, along with being a work of art.



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