Here is a summary, analysis, and review of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Sunrise on the Hills, a romantic poem on the soothing effect of nature’s sights and sounds.
‘Sunrise on the Hills’ by H.W Longfellow is a celebration of the healing power of nature. The poet muses upon the morning sun shining on the woods and hills, and urges readers to return to the lap of nature to soothe their souls. Throughout the poem, Longfellow compares the sun to a knight, and nature to his sweetheart; the princess.
The poem opens with a description of the grand glorious returning march of the sun which the poet witnesses from the top of a hill. Nature, the princess, has been waiting long under captivity. Now the city gates – heaven’s wide arch – is glorious with the knight’s arrival.
The sun’s glory outshines everything else, and the clouds that have gathered midway round the wooded height now look like an army overpowered in battle. The enemy forces retreat and rocking on the conquered fortress is left the dark pine blasted, bare and cleft.
The veil of cloud is lifted from above the face of princess nature and the sun’s first rays leave a mellow blush on her face. Nature begins to smile, and the rich valley begins to glow with all her charm. The distant waters dash and the current whirl and flash. And the lakes, princess nature’s blue eyes, with their silver beaches and the woods bending over them like eyelashes, brighten up.
From the beautiful sights of the valley, the poem gradually moves on to the mesmerising sounds that the valley sends out. Nature begins to sing and the noisy bittern wheels his spiral way up as in a musical note. The music of the village bells echoes in the hills. The voice of the wild horn and the merry shouts from the valley fill the air.
Watching sunrise on the hills leaves a profound soothing effect on the poet and the poem ends with a piece of advice to the readers. Whenever you are surrounded by the sorrows of life, whenever you fall upon the thorns of life and bleed, go to the woods and hills! Nature’s charm will never fail to leave a smile on your face. It has everything in it to keep your heart from fainting and your soul from sleep. No tears can blur the beauteous look that Nature wears for us.
True to the spirit of American Romanticism, the poem venerates Nature as a sanctum of non-artificial serenity, where the self can feel free and fulfil its potential. Comparing nature to a beautiful maiden has remained popular in literature over the centuries, especially among the romantic poets. But Longfellow has kept the comparison subdued with skilful elegance.
As far as images are concerned, ‘Sunrise on the Hills’ holds on tight to the basic tenets of Romanticism and images of love, adventure, and battle abound in the poem. Soft gales going forth to ‘kiss’ the sun-clad vales and ‘the mellow blush of day’ evoke an atmosphere of love, whereas ‘returning march,’ ‘hosts in battle overthrown,’ and ‘shattered lance’ are suggestive of adventure and battle.
Later poets like W. B. Yeats also have taken up the theme of returning to nature for solace. For instance, the poem ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ tells us about how the poet is fed up with dreary city life and how he longs to move to a lonely island where he will enjoy peace and solace. In contrast, Stephen Spender, in his poem ‘The Express’, speaks about how the beauty of machines excels the charm of nature.