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Phoebe Cary’s poem “A legend of Northland,” tells the story of a popular Northern European folklore in the style of a ballad. It recounts how a miserly woman irritated Saint Peter with her behaviour and was scolded and punished as a result.
The poet begins by noting that a familiar legend has been passed down through the generations in the Northland. Despite his doubts about the story’s veracity, the poet tells it anyway because he believes it will teach the reader something. The story takes place during the time when the good Saint Peter was teaching the Holy Word on the terrestrial route. He came to the door of a cottage where a woman lived during one of his travels, fatigued and hungry. He arrived as she was preparing cakes.
Saint Peter, exhausted from his travels and fasting, appealed to her goodness, asking for a single cake from her shop. The thrifty woman cooked him a small cake, but when it was almost done, it looked too big to give him. So she kneaded another, each one smaller than the previous, but she couldn’t stomach the idea of throwing them away. She next produced a wafer-thin miniature cake, but she was unable to distribute it. She realises the cakes are too little for her after eating them, but even the tiniest appears to be too huge to give away. Saint Peter was taken aback by the woman’s frugal nature. His patience and hunger gave way to fury.
He felt obligated to curse the miserly person. He denounced her conduct, claiming that she was too self-centred to be a human with easy access to food, housing, and clothing. Instead, he advised her to live like a bird, scavenging the woods for the tiniest scraps of food all day. The woman went up the chimney, transformed into a woodpecker, and flew away as soon as he said this curse.
The woman, now converted into a woodpecker, can still be seen in the forest, drilling into the wood of the trees, according to the poet. The folklore serves as a caution to everyone not to be miserly with their money.
Textual questions and answers
I . 1. Which country or countries do you think “the Northland” refers to?
Answer: The term “Northland” can refer to any country in the Earth’s north polar area that is exceedingly frigid. However, as the poet is an American, she may be referring to Alaska.
2. What did Saint Peter ask the old lady for? What was the lady’s reaction?
Answer: Saint Peter requested that the old lady give him a single cake from her cake store. In response to this request, the old lady proceeded to bake a tiny cake for him.
3. How did he punish her?
Answer: Saint Peter punished the miserly lady by transforming her into a woodpecker bird, which would have to forage for food by boring into the trees all day.
4. How does the woodpecker get its food?
Answer: The woodpecker, as the name implies, pecks into the wood of trees, boring in and out until it catches an insect living inside the tree.
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?
Answer: No, I believe the old lady would have been less ungenerous if she had known the true identity of Saint Peter. She may have even given him her largest and most delicious cake. Or, if her frugal nature prevented it, she would have given him one cake, as he had requested.
6. Is this a true story? Which part of this poem do you feel is the most important?
Answer: No, this is a legend, not a true story. The most important part of the poem, in my opinion, was when Saint Peter chastised the woman for being so selfish, even when she had plenty to spare, and when he turned the ungenerous lady into a woodpecker to teach her a lesson. This goes on to show how easy our lives are in comparison to the birds and animals. They, unlike us, must scour the entire day for the tiniest scrap of food. Yet we humans recoil at the prospect of having to share our opulence with those who are less fortunate than us.
7. What is a legend? Why is this poem called a legend?
Answer: A legend is a traditional old story that has been passed down through the ages that are not historical or verifiable.
Because it is based on a traditional story popular in northern countries that have been passed down through the centuries but has no historical evidence of being real, this poetry is referred to as a legend.
8. Write the story of ‘A legend of the Northland’ in about ten sentences.
Answer: Saint Peter travelled from place to place spreading the word of the Lord when he lived on earth. During one of these journeys, he came to the door of a woman who was baking cakes. He asked for a single cake, exhausted and hungry from fasting. The miserly woman made him a small cake because she did not want to part with her large cakes. She thought it was too big to give away, so she made a smaller one. This continued until she made a wafer-thin cake. Her greed prevented her from giving him this as well, and she told herself that cakes that seemed too small when she ate them seemed too large for giving away, and she placed all the cakes on the shelf. Saint Peter was enraged by the woman’s stinginess and declared that she did not deserve to be a human and enjoy life’s comforts. He decided that she would have to bore through the wood to get even the tiniest amount of food. She was converted into a woodpecker as a result of his comments, and she continues to peck wood in the forest for food to this day.
Additional/questions and answers/solutions
1. Describe ‘Northland’ as done by the poet in his poem “A Legend of the Northland”
Answer: The poet’s description of Northland is of a distant land where the nights are longer than the days, lasting so long in winter that people are unable to sleep all night. It is the land where people harness fast reindeer to their sledges and use them to travel through the snow. To keep out the cold, the children wear furry clothing, which, according to the poet, makes them look like bear cubs.
11. Why was the tiny woman cursed to be a woodpecker rather than another type of bird? How did she manage to get her meagre meal?
Answer: A holy man was enraged at the small woman. The saint spent the majority of his time preaching and travelling. He was hungry and weak as a result of his constant fasting. When Saint Peter noticed a little woman preparing cakes, he asked for a small bit. The greedy woman might have easily handed the saint a piece of cake. However, the greedy woman believed that even a small piece was too enormous to be given to him. Even this small gift was rejected. She was cursed to be a woodpecker by the saint. Even a small amount of food requires a long bore for a woodpecker. Because she had made the saint wait so long for such a small slice of cake, she was condemned to work hard by digging into the tree to receive even her meagre sustenance.
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