“Speak! speak I thou fearful guest
Who, with thy hollow breast
Still in rude armor drest,
Comest to daunt me!
Wrapt not in Eastern balms,
Bat with thy fleshless palms
Stretched, as if asking alms,
Why dost thou haunt me?”

Then, from those cavernous eyes
Pale flashes seemed to rise,
As when the Northern skies
Gleam in December;
And, like the water’s flow
Under December’s snow,
Came a dull voice of woe
From the heart’s chamber.

“I was a Viking old!
My deeds, though manifold,
No Skald in song has told,
No Saga taught thee!
Take heed, that in thy verse
Thou dost the tale rehearse,
Else dread a dead man’s curse;
For this I sought thee.

“Far in the Northern Land,
By the wild Baltic’s strand,
I, with my childish hand,
Tamed the gerfalcon;
And, with my skates fast-bound,
Skimmed the half-frozen Sound,
That the poor whimpering hound
Trembled to walk on.

“Oft to his frozen lair
Tracked I the grisly bear,
While from my path the hare
Fled like a shadow;
Oft through the forest dark
Followed the were-wolf’s bark,
Until the soaring lark
Sang from the meadow.

“But when I older grew,
Joining a corsair’s crew,
O’er the dark sea I flew
With the marauders.
Wild was the life we led;
Many the souls that sped,
Many the hearts that bled,
By our stern orders.

“Many a wassail-bout
Wore the long Winter out;
Often our midnight shout
Set the cocks crowing,
As we the Berserk’s tale
Measured in cups of ale,
Draining the oaken pail,
Filled to o’erflowing.

“Once as I told in glee
Tales of the stormy sea,
Soft eyes did gaze on me,
Burning yet tender;
And as the white stars shine
On the dark Norway pine,
On that dark heart of mine
Fell their soft splendor.

“I wooed the blue-eyed maid,
Yielding, yet half afraid,
And in the forest’s shade
Our vows were plighted.
Under its loosened vest
Fluttered her little breast
Like birds within their nest
By the hawk frighted.

“Bright in her father’s hall
Shields gleamed upon the wall,
Loud sang the minstrels all,
Chanting his glory;
When of old Hildebrand
I asked his daughter’s hand,
Mute did the minstrels stand
To hear my story.

“While the brown ale he quaffed,
Loud then the champion laughed,
And as the wind-gusts waft
The sea-foam brightly,
So the loud laugh of scorn,
Out of those lips unshorn,
From the deep drinking-horn
Blew the foam lightly.

“She was a Prince’s child,
I but a Viking wild,
And though she blushed and smiled,
I was discarded!
Should not the dove so white
Follow the sea-mew’s flight,
Why did they leave that night
Her nest unguarded?

“Scarce had I put to sea,
Bearing the maid with me,
Fairest of all was she
Among the Norsemen!
When on the white sea-strand,
Waving his armed hand,
Saw we old Hildebrand,
With twenty horsemen.

“Then launched they to the blast,
Bent like a reed each mast,
Yet we were gaining fast,
When the wind failed us;
And with a sudden flaw
Came round the gusty Skaw,
So that our foe we saw
Laugh as he hailed us.

“And as to catch the gale
Round veered the flapping sail,
Death I was the helmsman’s hail,
Death without quarter!
Mid-ships with iron keel
Struck we her ribs of steel
Down her black hulk did reel
Through the black water!

“As with his wings aslant,
Sails the fierce cormorant,
Seeking some rocky haunt
With his prey laden,
So toward the open main,
Beating to sea again,
Through the wild hurricane,
Bore I the maiden.

“Three weeks we westward bore,
And when the storm was o’er,
Cloud-like we saw the shore
Stretching to leeward;
There for my lady’s bower
Built I the lofty tower,
Which, to this very hour,
Stands looking seaward.

“There lived we many years;
Time dried the maiden’s tears
She had forgot her fears,
She was a mother.
Death closed her mild blue eyes,
Under that tower she lies;
Ne’er shall the sun arise
On such another!

“Still grew my bosom then.
Still as a stagnant fen!
Hateful to me were men,
The sunlight hateful!
In the vast forest here,
Clad in my warlike gear,
Fell I upon my spear,
O, death was grateful!

“Thus, seamed with many scars,
Bursting these prison bars,
Up to its native stars
My soul ascended!
There from the flowing bowl
Deep drinks the warrior’s soul,
Skoal! to the Northland! skoal!”
Thus the tale ended.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem The Skeleton in Armor

17 Comments

  1. Toto says:

    -new to poetry. didn’t know it but write some lousy stuff myself in form of lyrics. never gonna be this good but love to read it!-

  2. janelle says:

    the poem wuz great i loved it alot

  3. ron marrocco says:

    wanting to share (brag) with the group my find of a first edition of the skeleton in armor. I purchased
    a large quanity of books at a moving sale..wow!! what a surprise. you never know 🙂

  4. bill trebinrg says:

    After more than sixty years portions of this great poem come to mind. I have always loved poems and when I read them I project my image and my thoughts into the heart of them, The Raven, by Poe, is another that keeps repeating in my mind. Being alone with my favorite poems is my way to stay at peace with the world. Long may they be remembered and read over and over again.

  5. rachel says:

    oh my gosh!!! you are my great great great great great great great great (8) grandfather!! even though your dead…yea well i think thts just awesome!! well bye!

  6. Cheryl Hamilton says:

    This poem was brilliant. Longfellow did a good job portraying this viking that was once a child that enjoyed playing to this fierce pirate who found love on one of his escapades. THe love for this one woman was his reckoning as well as the cause for his death.

  7. Philip says:

    Dear Bill,

    Where do you reside in the United States? From your use of language, I would assume somewhere south. You sound like someone with a great deal to say, however, they way in which you say it makes you sound like a retard.
    I would recomend that in the future you use proper english. Perhaps that would help people to take you seriously.

    Sincerely,
    Philip Biersdorfer

  8. liushijun says:

    l love this poem.but i hope a lot studies involoved

  9. Tim says:

    I think there’s a typo in the beginning of it; according to a copy of it I have in a book, the opening is supposed to be “Speak! speak! thou fearful guest”.
    I don’t know if anyone else noticed.

  10. bill says:

    This poem is my most favorite poem. longfellow was a great poet even if he does spell tragety wrong. and true he does show great love for his wife. he must have there for he wouldn’t had killed his self. i believe when he kills his self in the poem that he done it for two reasons. He could have killed his self because he can’t find anyone else like her. Second he just wanted to be with her. (in heaven)

  11. Catherine says:

    Longfellow’s poetry seems to be underappreciated by the modern world. perhaps it is hard to pigeon-hole him as readable by a certain age group, or that blind patriotism is unpopular. He should be anthologized and read by students ages 5th grade through college.
    His poetry adds something to each reader’s life…it is his gift to us.

  12. lucas mann says:

    This poem is very deep in what he feels for this one person.

  13. Jim says:

    I seem to remember, from reading this poem in grade school, that it was based on the discovery of a skeleton dressed in armor somewhere in New England. I would assume in Massachusetts.

  14. shaniqua says:

    i really enjoyed reading this poem. i do not read a lot of poetry, but i think that this is a poem worth reading

  15. Chris says:

    That fag spelled tragedy wrong

  16. daniel says:

    this is a poem my mother used read to us in the evening.my first intro into romance and tragaty.

  17. Natalie says:

    This has all the elements of a great tale – adventure, warfare, forbidden love, and death. It is beautifully crafted, like so many of Longfellow’s works, and I find it quite inspiring.

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