On Longfellow and Smartphones

I discovered a few weeks ago that the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is (was?) available for free on my Kindle reading device. I immediately downloaded the collection. I had recently read a reference to one of his poems and thought it would be interesting to read it afresh. I was delighted to read again, as if for the first time, his poem “The Village Blacksmith.” Let me refresh you poetic memory:

“Under a spreading chestnut-tree/ The village smithy stands;/ The smith, a mighty man is he,/ With large and sinewy hands;/ And the muscles of his brawny arms/ Are strong as iron bands.”

Now that is quite the description! I can see in my mind’s eye this blacksmith, working his forge. Scenes in the stanzas of the poem describe school children coming by after school to watch the sparks fly as he swings “… his heavy sledge,/ With measured beat and slow,/ Like a sexton ringing the village bell,/ When the evening sun is low.”

Another two stanzas describe his attendance at church every Sunday, where “He hears his daughter’s voice,/ Singing in the village choir,/ And it makes his heart rejoice.”

But then comes the tone of melancholy as the poem continues: “It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,/ Singing in Paradise!/ He needs must think of her once more,/ How in the grave she lies;/ And with his hard, rough hand he wipes/ A tear out of his eyes.”

That stanza is the heart-wringer of the poem for me, though it is usually not quoted as frequently (gauged by the highlighting indicated in my Kindle device). In my mind’s eye, I can see that “mighty man,” rugged and powerful from his days of laborious toil, reaching up with “his hard, rough hand” to wipe “a tear out of his eyes.”

What does this have to do with my smartphone? Over the past couple of years, I have used my phone to keep track of my calendar. It is quite handy, especially since I can synchronize it with my wife’s schedule and the church’s schedule. As long as I put events and appointments in there, I can avoid conflicts of schedule. But that isn’t the real advantage. As I look over my schedule week by week, I am reminded that time is life, and that I don’t really know whether the events I have planned for will really happen.

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” prays Moses (Psalm 90:12, NIV). “See first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” says Jesus (Matthew 6:33, NIV). Here is where the smartphone calendar comes in handy. We must schedule the things that really matter and not allow other less important things to crowd those out. In this new year, AD 2020, we have a built-in reminder to see clearly what is of utmost importance—what has value that extends into eternity and not just what helps us “feather our nest” or become the top bird in the flock. I suspect the Smithy would have loved to roll back the clock so that he could express his love for his dear wife more directly. Alas, but he could not.

Smiley Mudd

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