The Arrow And The Song

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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.


This poem contains twelve lines, broken into three four line stanzas, with each stanza containing an AABB rhyme scheme. The poem is written without a consistent meter.

The first stanza tells the reader that the Speaker shot an arrow into the air and that it was not found after. The second follows with a similar message. Lines 5 and 6 are almost identical to lines 1 and 2. However, rather than shooting an arrow in the second stanza, the Speaker breathes a song.

Both of these stanzas are symbols for the actions and expressions of the Speaker – and likely intended to be viewed as symbolic of actions and expressions for all of humanity. The Speaker has done a thing and does not know what the result is – for good or bad. This is a common occurrence for everyone. The 3rd and 4th lines, mirrored again in the 7th and 8th lines, express this idea. “Sight” cannot follow where the arrow or the song go.

In the third stanza, we learn that both of these actions from the first two stanzas have a consequence – even if we cannot see them in the near term. The Speaker finds the unbroken arrow years later, still in an oak. Little did he know that he had changed the look of that tree for so long. More poignantly, the Speaker finds his song again in the heart of his friend. Little did he know the impact he had on his friend.

This lets us know that his actions (and all actions) mattered – for good or ill – even if he is not aware of *how* at the time. What we say and do matters!

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