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A Legend of the Northland by Phoebe Cary

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;

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:

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.

Once, when the good Saint Peter
Lived in the world below,
And walked about it, preaching,
Just as he did, you know,

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;

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.

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.

Therefore she kneaded another,
And still a smaller one;
But it looked, when she turned it over,
As large as the first had done.

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.

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.

Then good Saint Peter grew angry,
For he was hungry and faint;
And surely such a woman
Was enough to provoke a saint.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Short Summary

The poem is a legend about an old lady who angered Saint Peter because of her greed.

In Northland, lived a lady who was very selfish and greedy. Saint Peter while preaching the world reached her door one day. St. Peter was fainting with hunger. He asked the lady to give him a piece of cake. The cake that she was baking then appeared to be too big so she did not give him a piece from that and baked another small one. That also appeared too big so she did not give him that also. Now she took an extremely little scrap of dough and rolled it flat. She made it as thin as a wafer but was unable to part with that also.

This angered St. Peter a lot. He said that she was not fit to live in human form and enjoy food and warmth. He cursed her and transformed her into a woodpecker who has to bore into hard and dry wood to get its scanty food. She can be seen in the trees all day boring and boring for food.


In this poem, the poet tells us about an incident that took place in Northland. Nights in Northland are very long and the people can not stay asleep for the whole night. People residing there harness the reindeers to pull their sledges. Their children wear furry clothes. Then the poet narrates a story. However, the poet does not believe it to be true.

Once, Saint Peter was travelling round the earth. He came across a little woman who was baking cakes in a hearth in Northland. The Saint was feeling very week due to fast. Therefore, he requested the lady to give him one cake. The lady was very greedy. She made a small cake and placed it on the hearth for baking it. But it became large in size after it was turned. She changed her mind and placed it in the shelf instead of giving it to the saint. Then she took little scrap of dough and then baked it. But she again failed to part with it. She said that when she herself eats them, they look small to her; but when she gives it to others, it looks too big to give away.

At this, the saint tells her she is too selfish to dwell in human form in the warmth of a house. Saying this, he transforms her in a woodpecker. Now she will get very less food and will keep boring the holes in the dry hard wood. At this she entered the chimney and when she escaped from the top of it, her clothes were burnt in the flames except her scarlet cap and now she was a woodpecker. Every country schoolboy can see her boring in the woods even today.

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