Under A Spreading Chestnut Tree

Ah, under a spreading chestnut-tree. The line comes from asong that goes back centuries and was popular in England in the days of music hall. If I recall correctly from old clips, there was a saucy innuendo in the way the words were delivered.

And ‘under a spreading chestnut-tree’ is also the opening line of a poem, The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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

It’s not the most etherial of openings. The words and the rhyming are pretty obvious and, to my mind, clunky. But then later in the poem there is this, the penultimate verse.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
     Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
     Has earned a night’s repose.

Of course, I don’t know how much the average village blacksmith valued or respected his work. What was life like for a person like that in the 1800s in Longfellow’s day? Perhaps the blacksmith went home each day and collapsed exhausted and hated everything about his life.

Or perhaps he learned a lot about the materials he worked with, and grew to love the things he discovered in the materials and the challenge of working with them.

Perhaps when he was young he contemplated his future and tried to imagine how he was going to become successful. Perhaps he chose a profession where he had the best chance of acquiring the success he wanted. 

One could see how he would attach himself to anything that furthered that goal. He would turn like a weathervane, attracted to the next chance to advance.

If, on the other hand, he thought of what inspired him and of the work he wanted to accomplish, then the focus would be on the work. That is something honest and worthwhile that he could feel good about. He would not be divorced from the world. Rather he would be attached to it and feel good as a servant of it.

[Note: For he and him read also she and her.]