A Legend of Northland

A legend of northland

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Today, I will be discussing in deep about the poem A legend of Northland. I ensure you will get a complete idea to write the summary, central idea, and explanation of the poem orderly. You will be able to write the specification and figure of speech used in this poem too. After reading this page you will find the secret to score outstanding marks in the board examination.

Overview of the content-

  • About the Poet,
  • Short introduction of the Poem
  • Stanza-wise explanation along with reference and context
  • Keywords and Quick Point after each Stanza
  • The central idea of  The Poem
  • Quiz for deep undersatnding the poem
  • Videos just like a live class
  • Relevant Quotations and statements
  • Specification (Themes and figure of speech etc.)


An American poet, Phoebe  Cary was born on 4th September,1824, in Mount Healthy, Ohio, U.S. Most of her poems are compiled along with the poems of her sister, Alice Cary. She died of hepatitis on July 31, 1871.


The poem is a ballad, which describes the story of an old lady because of her selfish behavior, provoked Saint Peter to curse her. The story begins with Saint Peter when while preaching around the world, he reached the door of this woman’s cottage.

At that time, she was preparing cakes on a hearth. And since Saint Peter was extremely hungry, he asked the lady to give him a piece of cake. But since the cake that she was baking, appeared to be too big to give out for charity, she didn’t give him that one,  and instead she baked another smaller one.

Then again she took a smaller dough and baked it, but that too appeared her too big. Then for the third time, she took a very small dough and rolled it as thin as a wafer, but she couldn’t give that one too.

This irritated Saint Peter to such an extent that he cursed her, thus transforming her into a ‘woodpecker’ who had to bore in hard, dry wood to get its minimal amount of food.

About the poem In Hindi

कविता एक गाथागीत है, जिसमें अपने स्वार्थी व्यवहार के कारण एक बूढ़ी औरत की कहानी का वर्णन किया गया है, जिसने सेंट पीटर को उसे शाप देने के लिए उकसाया। कहानी सेंट पीटर के साथ शुरू होती है जब दुनिया भर में प्रचार करते हुए, वह इस महिला की कुटिया के दरवाजे तक पहुंच गया।

उस समय, वह चूल्हा पर केक तैयार कर रही थी। चूंकि सेंट पीटर बेहद भूखे थे, उन्होंने महिला से एक रोटी का टुकड़ामाँगा। लेकिन चूंकि वह जिस केक को पका रही थी, वह चैरिटी के लिए था और यह रोटी का टुकड़ा दान करने के लिये बहुत बड़ा लग रहा था ।

इसलिए उसने उसे एक नहीं दिया, फिर उसने एक छोटा आटा लिया और उसे बेक( bake )किया, लेकिन वह भी उसे बहुत बड़ा दिखाई दिया। फिर तीसरी बार, उसने एक बहुत छोटा आटा लिया और उसे एक वेफर की तरह पतला किया, लेकिन वह भी नहीं दे पाई।

इसने सेंट पीटर को इस हद तक चिढ़ाया कि उन्होंने उसे शाप दिया, इस प्रकार उसे एक ‘कठफोड़वा’ में बदल दिया, जिसे भोजन की न्यूनतम मात्रा प्राप्त करने के लिए कठिन, सूखी लकड़ी में बोर होना पड़ा.

Stanza-wise Explanation of the Poem

Stanza 1

Away, away in the Northland,

Where the hours of the day are few,

And the nights are so long in winter

That they cannot sleep them through;


Through these lines, the poet draws sketch of the region around the North Pole (Northland), where due to its position the sunrays reach for a very less time, thus decreasing the duration of the day, and leaving behind the dark long nights.

But when this area experiences the winter season, the duration of night becomes longer, thus decreasing the day time a bit more.

The poet also describes the lifestyle of the natives of this region by saying that the people don’t sleep for the whole night, instead, they spend rest of the time in doing some or the other sort of works.

Literary Devices

  •  Rhyme Scheme : abcb
  • Alliteration: that, they, them through – ‘th’ sound is repeating
  • Repetition: ‘away’ word is repeated
  • Enjambment: line 3 and 4

Stanza 2

Where they harness the swift reindeer

To the sledges, when it snows;

And the children look like bear’s cubs

In their funny, furry clothes:

Difficult Words

  • Sledges: a vehicle on runners for conveying loads or passengers over snow or ice, often pulled by draught animals.
  • To harness: to tie the reindeers with a rope to a sledge so that it can be used for transportation.
  • Swift: something which runs very fast
  • Reindeer:  an animal found in  polar region of Northland.


The poet says that when the area is covered with snow due to severe cold conditions, people tie the reminders to sledges to pull it. She further says that the children of that region wear furry clothes, which make them appear like the cubs of a bear.

Literary Devices

  • Rhyme Scheme: abcb
  • Alliteration: they, the – ‘th’ sound is repeating Look, like – ‘l’ sound is repeating
  • Funny, furry – ‘f’ sound is repeating
  •  Enjambment: Line 1 and 2; line 3 and 4
  • Simile: ‘the children look like bear’s cubs’. Children compared to bear’s cubs

Stanza 3

They tell them a curious story —

I don’t believe ’tis true;

And yet you may learn a lesson

If I tell the tale to you.

Difficult Word

  • Curious: strange


In these lines, poet says that the elders of the Northland region tell an interesting story to the children. And although the poet isn’t sure about the truth of that story, she considers it worth listening as one could learn a lesson from it.

Literary Devices

  •  Rhyme Scheme:abcb
  • Alliteration: they, them- ‘th’ sound is repeating
  • Yet, you – ‘‘y sound is repeating’
  • Learn, lesson – ‘l’ sound is repeating
  • Tell, tale, to – ‘t’ sound is repeating
  • Enjambment: Line 3 and 4

Stanza 4

Once, when the good Saint Peter

Lived in the world below,

And walked about it, preaching,

Just as he did, you know,

Difficult Words

  • Saint Peter: an apostle of Christ, a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ
  • Preaching: to give a religious talk


The story is about Saint Peter, who used to go around the world, giving religious lectures to the people.

Literary Devices

  •  Rhyme Scheme: abcb
  • Enjambment: Line 1 and 2; 3 and 4

Stanza 5

He came to the door of a cottage,

In travelling round the earth,

Where a little woman was making cakes,

And baking them on the hearth;

Difficult Word

  • Hearth: fire place where you do cooking


The poet says that once when the Saint Peter was moving around the world, giving religious lectures to the people, he reached the door of a cottage, where a woman was preparing cakes.

Literary Devices

  •  Rhyme Scheme:abcb
  •  Alliteration: woman, was – ‘w’ sound is repeating
  • Them, the, hearth – ‘th’ sound is repeating

Stanza 6

And being faint with fasting,

For the day was almost done,

He asked her, from her store of cakes,

To give him a single one.

Difficult Word

  • Faint: to be weak, famished


As Saint Peter had not eaten anything throughout the day, he was very weak due to hunger. So, he went to this woman, asking for a piece of the cake out of many that she had baked.

Literary Devices

  •  Rhyme Scheme:abcb
  •  Alliteration: faint, fasting – ‘f’ sound is repeating

Stanza 7

So she made a very little cake,

But as it baking lay,

She looked at it, and thought it seemed

Too large to give away.


The woman was so selfish that she did not give cake from her store, and instead, she started making a smaller cake for Saint Peter. But, when she put the cake for baking, the cake appeared too big to be given to someone.

Literary Devices

  •  Rhyme Scheme: abcb

 Stanza 8

Therefore she kneaded another,

And still a smaller one;

 But it looked, when she turned it over,

As large as the first had done.

Difficult Word

  • Kneaded: to make dough from flour.


Now since the cake she prepared for the Saint appeared a bit too big, she started making another smaller cake. But again the same story repeated and the cake thus formed too appeared to her of the same size as of the previous one.

 Literary Devices

  •  Rhyme Scheme:abcb
  •  Alliteration: still, smaller – ‘s’ sound is repeating

Stanza 9

Then she took a tiny scrap of dough,

And rolled and rolled it flat;

 And baked it thin as a wafer —

But she couldn’t part with that.

Difficult Words

  • Scrap: small amount


Then for the third time, she took a very small dough and rolled it, thus making it very thin like a wafer and baked it. But because of her selfish behavior, she couldn’t give that thin cake too, to the saint.

Literary Devices

  • 1. Rhyme Scheme: abcb
  • 2. Alliteration: took, tiny –‘t’ sound is repeating
  • 3. Repetition: ‘rolled’ word is repeated
  • 4. Simile: ‘baked it thin as a wafer’. Cake is compared to a wafer.

Stanza 10

For she said, “My cakes that seem too small

When I eat of them myself

 Are yet too large to give away.”

So she put them on the shelf.


The woman reasoned that, when she ate the cakes, they felt to be very small, but when she had to give them to someone, she found them to be too big to be given away. So, she placed all the cakes on the shelf of her kitchen.

 Literary Devices

  • 1. Rhyme Scheme:abcb
  • 2. Alliteration: seem, small – ‘s’ sound is repeating
  • 3. Enjambment: Line 1, 2 and 3

Stanza 11

Then good Saint Peter grew angry,

For he was hungry and faint;

And surely such a woman

Was enough to provoke a saint.

Difficult Word

  • Provoke: cause to get angry


As even after knowing the fact that he was starving badly, the lady wasn’t giving him the cake, the Saint became very angry.

Literary Devices

  • 1. Rhyme Scheme:abcb
  • 2.Enjambment:Line 1 and 2

Stanza 12

And he said, “You are far too selfish

To dwell in a human form,

To have both food and shelter,

 And fire to keep you warm.

Difficult Word

  • Dwell: to live


Saint Peter cursed the woman that she was too selfish to live in a human form, and enjoy the facilities like— food to eat, shelter to live and fire to keep her warm.

  •  Rhyme Scheme: abcb

 Stanza 13

Now, you shall build as the birds do,

And shall get your scanty food

By boring, and boring, and boring,

All day in the hard, dry wood.”

Difficult Words

  • Scanty: very little
  • Boring:  make a hole in something with a tool or by digging.


Saint Peter cursed the woman that henceforth, she would have to build her house by boring  into the wood, and have to work very hard to collect very little food.

Literary Devices

  •  Rhyme Scheme:abcb
  •  Alliteration: build, birds – ‘b’ sound is repeating
  • By, boring – ‘b’ sound is repeating
  • ‘boring’ word is repeated

Stanza 14

Then up she went through the chimney,

Never speaking a word,

And out of the top flew a woodpecker,

For she was changed to a bird.


As soon as Saint Peter cursed the woman, she flew up through the chimney, and flew out in the form of a woodpecker bird.

Literary Devices

  •  Rhyme Scheme: abcb

Stanza 15

She had a scarlet cap on her head,

And that was left the same;

But all the rest of her clothes were burned

Black as a coal in the flame.

Difficult Words

  • Scarlet: brilliant red color


At the instance whenthe woman turned into the bird, she was wearing a red – colored cap. So, when she turned into the woodpecker, all her clothes burned into the flame, except that cap.

Literary Devices

  1. Scheme: abcb
  2. Simile: ‘clothes were burned black as a coal’. The color of the burned clothes is compared to that of coal

Stanza 16

And every country schoolboy

Has seen her in the wood,

 Where she lives in the trees till this very day,

Boring and boring for food.

Difficult Words

  • Country: belonging to the countryside i.e. rural areas


The poet says that even the small children who go to school have seen this kind of bird in the woods, which keeps on digging the wood with her beak throughout the day, to collect her food.

Literary Devices

  •  Rhyme Scheme: abcb
  •  Repetition: ‘boring’ word is repeated

Answer the following questions

 1. Which country or countries do you think “the Northland” refers to?

A. The northland refers to the region around the north pole which is extremely cold. It could be any country like Russia, Canada, Greenland, Norway, etc.

 2. What did Saint Peter ask the old lady for? What was the lady’s reaction?

A. Saint Peter asked the lady to give him a cake to satisfy his hunger.

The lady did not give him a cake out of the ones that she had baked earlier, instead she started baking smaller ones for him; but due to her selfishness, she couldn’t give him those too.

 3. How did he punish her?

A. He punished the selfish lady by turning her into a woodpecker bird that have to bore into the dry wood throughout the day to get some food and shelter.

4. How does the woodpecker get her food?

A. The woodpecker gets her food by boring holes in the wood.

5. Do you think that the old lady would have been so ungenerous if she had known who Saint Peter really was? What would she have done then?

A. If the old lady knew who Saint Peter was, then she would not have been ungenerous. On the other hand, she would have served him well for the fulfilment of her selfish needs.

6. Is this a true story? Which part of this poem do you feel is the most important?

A. No, it is not a true story, instead it’s a mere fiction.

The most important part of the poem is  when the woman is turned into a woodpecker bird for her selfish deeds.

7. What is a legend? Why is this poem called a legend?

A. A legend is a popular story from the past which is believed to be true but cannot be verified. It contains a moral which is narrated to the children to teach them moral values.

8. Write the story of ‘A Legend of Northland’ in about ten sentences.

Answer : One day when while preaching around the world, Saint Peter reached the door of this woman’s cottage, and asked for a piece of cake from the ones she was preparing on the hearth, she instead of giving from those prepared ones, started preparing smaller ones for him, as she wasn’t ready for giving him the bigger piece. And so she tried making the smallest cake to serve him, but her selfishness didn’t allowed her to do so. This irritated the saint to such an extent that he transformed her into a woodpecker bird, that have to bore in the wood throughout the day to get food and shelter.

Central Idea of the Poem

The central idea of the poem is those selfish people always land-up into great troubles and in this poem too, the selfish lady gets cursed due to her selfishness.

कविता का केंद्रीय विचार: उन स्वार्थी लोगों को हमेशा बड़ी परेशानियों में डालना है और इस कविता में भी स्वार्थी महिला अपने स्वार्थ के कारण शापित हो जाती है।

Quiz: Check Your level


“Selfish people Try to keep or Get things, but they loose people.”

Hanna Garrison

Content writer : Vaishnawi Tripathi, Edited by Shadab Akhter

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