‘Song’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of five lines. The stanzas of this poem are constant in their rhyming pattern, following the scheme of, aabba ccddc eeffe. The consistent nature of these lines creates a specific type of rhythm to the poem. It also connects all three stanzas together, unifying the poem from beginning to end.
The speaker’s tone remains the same throughout the poem’s entirety. He begins the first stanza in what one could interpret to be a loving, gentle tone, and ends it the same way. The words he speaks in-between are all gentle, philosophical suggestions to his listener. He does not demand, instruct, or force the listener to do as he says, his calm analysis of the situations of life comes across as measured and well thought out.
Summary of Song
‘Song‘ begins with the speaker asking his listener, who is either his own inner being, or a lover of one variety of another, to “stay at home.” This person seems frail to the speaker, as if she cannot live beyond the walls of a home. He asks that she not “wander” as some do, as it is an unhappy and unfulfilling life.
He spends an amount of time describing just how unpleasant the lives of wanderers are and how they are never happy, always listless, and continually doubtful of their choices. This is not a life he wants for either himself or his lover. In the final lines, he repeats his previous sentiments and compares his “heart” to that of a bird who might be preyed on by a hawk.
Analysis of Song
Stay, stay at home, my heart, and rest;
Home-keeping hearts are happiest,
For those that wander they know not where
Are full of trouble and full of care;
To stay at home is best.
The speaker begins ‘Song‘ by giving a command. His words can be interpreted as being directed in two different ways, a fact that was most likely intentional on Longfellow’s part. Longfellow’s speaker is addressing his “heart,” in the first line, and all those which follow. One might argue that this “heart” of which he speaks is his own. He is reminding himself of how the world truly is. On the other hand, one could think the speaker is talking to his lover, someone dearly close to him over whom he worries, and who represents his heart.
Whichever the case may be, the sentiments that Longfellow presents and purports remain the same. He begins by asking of his heart that she/it “stay at home” and spend time resting there. This is a calm and measured suggestion, fitting in well with the tone of the following lines. The speaker believes that it would be best for this person to whom he is speaking, whether that be himself or someone close to him, to stay at home. He supports this belief by adding in the next line, that those who are home and keep their hearts there, “are happiest.”
At this point, if one is considering that the subject of this piece is another person, a lover of the speaker, it is interesting to note that not only does he think that she will be happier at home, but it will give him a measure of peace to know she is there. Her placidity will please and bolster his confidence in his every day.
The concluding three lines of the stanza describe the life of one who wanders “they know not where.” This person, who does not stay at home, is lost in life. They have no purpose or direction. This causes them to be “full of trouble and full of care.” The wandering person has much more to worry about than does one who stays “at home.”
Weary and homesick and distressed,
They wander east, they wander west,
And are baffled and beaten and blown about
By the winds of the wilderness of doubt;
To stay at home is best.
The second stanza of ‘Song‘ picks up where the first left off, Longfellow’s speaker is still addressing the nature of “wandering” and how it impacts one’s life. The person who is not tied to a home, willingly or otherwise, is made to experience a number of emotions which would be otherwise avoidable. The wanderer is “Weary and homesick and distressed.” Because he or she has seen, and presumably understands more of the world, they are made to carry more of it with them as they move through life. The speaker also makes sure to emphasize that these people aren’t happy, they crave the life that he wants his “heart” to have.
The wanderers go from place to place with no specific direction in mind. One day they might travel east and the next, “wander west.” This is not due to any love for meandering about the countryside, but because they are “baffled.” They have no goals in life, no places they must get to, or return to, so they become aimless in their existence. The wanderers are “beaten” down by the world. They’ve seen way too much of it at this point and find no comfort in the natural elements they most likely once loved.
The speaker continues on to say that the “winds” they are “blown about” in are like the “winds of the wilderness of doubt.” He is hoping to spare his loved one from the burden of choice and experience. These wanderers, he thinks, have made a serious error that will continue to impact them way into the future. They feel an immense amount of “doubt” about their choices but have nowhere to settle and find peace. The final line of this section is the same as the concluding line of the first and third stanzas, “To stay home is best.” One will be able to avoid any internal struggles this way.
Then stay at home, my heart, and rest;
The bird is safest in its nest;
O’er all that flutter their wings and fly
A hawk is hovering in the sky;
To stay at home is best.
The final stanza of ‘Song‘ begins the same as the first. He is once more compelling his “heart” to “stay at home” and spend time resting. This person, or perhaps the speaker himself, seems to be in need of a rejuvenating rest that will help them accommodate their life. They should stay at home as there is nothing to worry about there. They will be like a “bird” who is “safest in its nest.”
The person to whom he speaks seems to him to be frail beyond measure, or at least in need of controlling. In his eyes, she is unable to support herself emotionally in the real world. She, (or perhaps he still refers to his own being), would not be able to survive in the wild. There are other birds, once which are much less friendly, like a “hawk” which is “hovering in the sky.” There is always something to be afraid of outside, but not in one’s nest.