The complete text of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha" runs over one hundred pages and is too long to be reprinted here. A much-anthologized excerpt begins: "On the shores of Gitche Gumee, / Of the shining Big Sea Water, / Stood Nokomis, the old woman, / Pointing with her finger westward, / O'er the water pointing westward, / To the purple clouds of sunset."
"The Song of Hiawatha" was published in 1855 and was an instant success. It became one of the best-selling long poems in American history. The infectious trochaic rhythm made the poem a popular choice for memorization, and phrases such as "shining Big Sea water" and "daughter of the Moon, Nokomis" became familiar to everyone. In later years, the poem was sometimes criticized and parodied for its stylized, stereotypical depiction of Native American speech. Longfellow apparently took the poem very seriously and based it on pre-existing legends. The historical Hiawatha was a member of the Iroquois nation. He lived in the 16th century and was instrumental in the establishment of the Iroquois Confederacy that united the Six Nations. Longfellow based his poem on Ojibway legends collected by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who had confused Hiawatha with the Ojibway hero Manabozho.