A Legend of the Northland


This poem is based on a traditional story told to children in the Northland. Because the story concludes with a supernatural element, its veracity cannot be confirmed. The poet himself claims that he does not believe this story is accurate. Furthermore, the poem conveys the notion of being generous to one’s fellow beings. That is why it is referred to as a legend. A ‘legend’ is a popular story from the past that many people believe but cannot prove whether it is genuine or not. It is frequently narrated to children and conveys a message or a moral.

A Legend of the Northland” is a ballad since it tells a story. Ballads are part of folk or popular culture and are passed down orally from generation to generation. The plot revolves around the Northland region, which is located near the North Pole. The precise location is not specified, but ‘Northland’ alludes to the territory in the far north of the earth, near the North Pole.

The poem has 16 stanzas in all, and these stanzas will tell us a story.

Summary of A Legend of the Northland

The poem is based on a legend about an old lady who enraged Saint Peter due to her greed. The story continues in this manner. Saint Peter was preaching around the world one day when he came to the door of a cottage where a woman lived. She was baking cakes on a hearth. St. Peter was fainting from hunger. He requested that the lady give him a piece of cake. Because the cake she was baking appeared to be excessively large, she did not present it to him and instead cooked a smaller one. That also appeared to be large, therefore she did not offer it to him. She cooked another smaller cake the next time, but it was too enormous to give away. In her third effort, she took a very small scrap of dough and rolled it flat. She had it as thin as a wafer but was unable to part with it as well. This really enraged St. Peter. He stated that she was not fit to exist in human form and enjoy food and comfort. He cursed her and turned her into a woodpecker bird that had to bore into hard, dry wood to receive its meagre sustenance. She can be spotted among the trees all day, boring and boring for food.

Explanation and Analysis

Stanza 1

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;

In the region surrounding the North Pole (Northland), the day is unusually short due to the Sun’s rays reaching for a very short time. When this area is experiencing winter, the nighttime hours are extremely long and the daytime hours are quite short. In line 4, the term ‘they’ refers to the residents of this region. According to the poet, the duration of the night is so long that humans are unable to sleep through it. If they go to bed, sleep for a few hours, and then wake up, it is still night. He wishes to emphasise the length of the night.

Stanza 2

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:


The Northland region is subject to bitter cold. It is a snow-covered location. The reindeer is a species of animal that lives in this polar region. The reindeer are tied to sledges and the sledges are pulled by the reindeer. He continues by stating that the children resemble bear cubs due to their odd-looking clothing made of fur that resembles a bear’s fuzzy skin.

Stanza 3

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.


In line 1, the pronouns ‘they’ refers to the parents or elders while ‘them’ allude to the children or younger generation. The elders of the Northland region tell the younger generation an odd and fascinating storey. The poet states that he does not believe the narrative is factual but believes that by telling it to the reader, the reader may learn a lesson. The narrative conveys a vital message.

Stanza 4

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


The story revolves around Saint Peter. When Saint Peter was living in the world and going around giving religious lectures to the people, as all saints do, an incident occurred.

Stanza 5

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;


When Saint Peter was travelling the world, offering religious teachings to the people, he came to the door of a cottage where a small woman was baking cakes. She was baking the cakes in the hearth.

Stanza 6

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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.


Saint Peter was hungry and feeling weak because he had not eaten anything all day. So he went to this woman who was preparing cakes and requested one of the many cakes she had cooked.

Stanza 7

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.

The woman was self-centred. She did not give any cake from her bakery. Instead, she began creating a tiny cake for Saint Peter. She was adamant about not sharing her possessions. However, as she placed the cake in the oven to bake, she noticed that it was far too large to be delivered to someone.

Stanza 8

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

The cake, according to the little miser woman, was too large to be given away. As a result, she began making another smaller cake. When she glanced at that cake, she realised it was just as enormous as the previous one. She was once again hesitant to present Saint Peter with this tiny dessert.

Stanza 9

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.

The third time, she rolled a very small amount of dough. The poet says she rolled and rolled to emphasise the fact that she rolled the dough and made it exceedingly thin like a wafer before baking it. But she was so greedy that she could not offer the saint that thin slice of bread.

Stanza 10

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.


The woman stated that she thought the cakes were small when she ate them, but that they were too large to give away if she had to give them to someone. She stacked all of the cakes on her kitchen shelf and did not offer any to Saint Peter.

Stanza 11

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


Saint Peter was enraged. He was starving and exhausted, and the heartless woman refused to offer him even a small piece of cake. The saint was enraged by the selfish woman’s actions.

Stanza 12

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.


Saint Peter cursed the woman and called her selfish. She did not deserve to be treated as a human being. He went on to say that God had provided her with food, housing, and a fire to keep her warm, but she had become greedy with all of her resources. She did not want to show them to anyone.

Stanza 13

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.”

Saint Peter cursed the woman, saying she deserved to be a bird but did not deserve to be human. She will become a bird, and just as birds build their houses by boring into the wood and collecting very little food by working hard all day, she will work hard in the dry wood all day and collect very little food while making a small space for herself to live in.

Stanza 14

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.


As soon as Saint Peter cursed the woman, she flew up to the roof through the chimney and flew out in the guise of a bird, denying her the opportunity to speak for herself. The curse of Saint Peter had turned the woman into a bird.

Stanza 15

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.


When the woman converted into a bird, she was wearing a red–coloured cap on her head. This cap was likewise on the bird’s head, but the woman’s remaining garments had burned and became a dark black colour, similar to coal.

Stanza 16

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.


People who live in the countryside, including school-age children, have seen this type of bird in the forests. They notice that she stays there all day and digs in the wood with her beak to get food. When a child encounters this type of bird, his elders will tell him this storey. According to legend, the bird was once a woman. She was terribly greedy, so Saint Peter cursed her and turned her into a bird. They are taught that they should not be greedy.

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Textual Questions of A Legend of Northland

1. Which country or countries do you think “the Northland” refers to?
Answer: The term “Northland” can refer to any country in the Earth’s north polar area that is exceedingly frigid.

2. What did Saint Peter ask the old lady for? What was the lady’s reaction?
Answer: Saint Peter requested one of the old lady’s baked goods. The lady attempted to bake a tiny cake for the saint. However, as the cake was baking, she observed that it appeared to be too large to give away, so she made a smaller dough. She discovered that this one was just as big as the first, so she grabbed a tiny piece of dough and rolled it thin as a wafer. But she could not bear the thought of parting with it, so she put it on the shelf. As a result, she never gave anything to Saint Peter.

3. How did he punish her?
Answer: He punished the lady by transforming her into a woodpecker, which would have to build a nest and forage for scarce food all day by drilling in the hard dry wood.

4. How does the woodpecker get her food?
Answer: The woodpecker gets its food by boring holes into hard and dry woods of trees.

5. Do you think that the old lady would have been so ungenerous if she had known who Saint Peter really was? What would she have done then?
Answer: No, if the elderly lady had known who Saint Peter truly was, she would not have been so ungenerous. Instead, she would have cheerfully welcomed him into her home and presented him with several huge cakes in order to please him and obtain his blessings.

6. Is this a true story? Which part of this poem do you feel is the most important?
Answer: No, this is not a true story. It is a legend. The most essential portion of this poem, in my opinion, is when Saint Peter changes the elderly lady into a woodpecker to teach her a lesson. In this section, we will study two very important life values: generosity and assisting others. We should appreciate all of the conveniences and advantages that we have as humans. We should not be self-centred.

7. What is a legend? Why is this poem called a legend?
Answer: A legend is an old popular story that many people believe but cannot prove whether or not it is factual. It is frequently narrated to kids and conveys a message or a moral.

This poem is based on a traditional story told to children in the Northland. Because the story concludes with a supernatural element, its veracity cannot be confirmed. The poet himself claims that he does not believe this story is accurate. Furthermore, the poem conveys the notion of being generous to one’s fellow beings. That is why it is referred to as a legend.

8. Write the story of ‘A Legend of the Northland’ in about ten sentences.
Answer: Saint Peter, who was travelling around preaching, once stopped by an old lady’s cottage because he was hungry and weak after fasting all day. On the hearth, the lady was preparing cakes. He requested a dessert from her. The lady was quite stingy. She attempted to bake a miniature cake for him. But as it baked, she realised it was too big to give away. She attempted to prepare smaller cakes two more times, but each time the cakes appeared too huge to her, and she ultimately did not give any cake to the Saint.
Saint Peter grew enraged when he saw the lady’s greedy behaviour and labelled her too selfish to live as a human and have food, shelter, and a fire to keep her warm. He punished her by transforming her into a woodpecker, which would have to build a nest and forage for food by boring the hard, dry trunks of trees. Her garments were destroyed, leaving her with only her scarlet cap on her head as she flew out the chimney. Even now, country schoolboys report seeing her in the woods, boring the trees for sustenance.

Short Answer Questions

Question 1. Where does this legend belong to and what kind of country is it?
Answer: The legend is from the “Northland,” which could allude to any of the extremely cold countries in the Earth’s north polar region, such as Greenland, Russia’s northern regions – Siberia, or the Scandinavian countries – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland. It is a frigid place, with short days and long nights.

Question 2. ‘And the children look like bear’s cubs.’ What have the children been compared to? Why?
Answer: Northland is a frigid place, therefore the children must wear weird furry skirts to keep warm. They look like bear cubs in these outfits.

Question 3. What does the poet tell us about the story she is about to narrate? Why does she want to tell the tale?
Answer: The poet says she will narrate a bizarre story recounted by the inhabitants of Northlands. She confesses that, while the storey may not be real, she wants to tell it since it teaches charity and philanthropy. She wishes for the poetry to teach the readers a lesson.

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Long answer type questions 

Question 1. A holy man should not curse the lady. Justify this statement in the context of the poem ‘A Legend of the Northland’.
Answer: The wisdom of a holy man is well known. He teaches people moral lessons, whether they are liberal or selfish. In his perspective, everyone is equal. Saint Peter is a holy guy in the current storey. He is also well-known for his sermons. He has preached and travelled extensively. As a result, he is famished. He requests food from the lady, but she refuses to share her meal with him. Finally, the saint is enraged and curses her. In fact, he should have shown clemency and set a good example. As a result, it is proper to state that a holy man should not curse the lady.

Question 2. How can you say that the old lady was greedy?
Answer: The old lady owned a bakery. Saint Peter was a knowledgeable man. He would be travelling and preaching a lot, therefore he was tired and hungry. He had come to her door to ask for some food. Nonetheless, the lady made him wait a long time for the cake. Every time she attempted to create a too-small cake, the cake appeared to be larger to her. The old lady refused to share this large cake with the saint. Eventually, the saint became enraged and cursed her. As a result, her avarice had no bounds.

Question 3. Why was St. Peter forced to curse the greedy little woman? Can you justify the action of St. Peter?
Answer: St. Peter was a man of god. He was regarded as a Christian saint. He spent his time travelling about and speaking to the people. Saints generally bestow blessings on the people. They are not cursed. When individuals resist logic and turn evil, these religious men resort to profanity. In the storey, the tiny woman was incredibly selfish and greedy. St. Peter was exhausted after a long day of travelling and preaching. After the fast, he had felt weak and famished. He came to the small woman’s cottage for meals. When St. Peter saw her preparing cakes, he asked her to contribute one from her cake store. The greedy woman made him a very small piece of cake. Even the modest bit appeared to be too huge to be offered to the saint. As a result, she continued to make it smaller and smaller. St. Peter, who was starving, cursed the selfish and greedy woman. She was cursed to be a boring woodpecker who struggled for her meagre food. St. Peter was correct in denouncing her. She had denied even a modest piece of cake to a tired and hungry saint. She deserved to be punished for her selfishness.

Question 4. Why was the little woman cursed particularly to be a woodpecker and not another bird? How did she struggle to get her scanty food?
Answer: A holy man was enraged because of the small woman. The saint spent the majority of his life travelling and preaching. Constant fasting had made him hungry and feeble.
When Saint Peter observed a petite woman preparing cakes, he asked for a small piece of cake. The greedy woman might have easily handed the saint a piece of cake. But the greedy woman thought that even a small piece was too huge to give to him. Even this small gift was turned down by her. The saint cursed her to become a woodpecker. A woodpecker must bore for a long time to obtain even a small amount of food. She was cursed to work hard by digging into the tree to receive even her meagre sustenance because she had made the saint wait so long for such a small slice of cake.

Extract Based Question

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.

1. Where did the story of this poem occur?
A) Switzerland
B) Scotland
C) Northland
D) Netherland

2. Which bird did the Saint’s curse change the woman into?
A) a sparrow
B) a crow
C) a parrot
D) a woodpecker

3. What made St. Peter angry with the woman?
A) her cakes
B) she made a thin cake for him
C) her greedy actions
D) All

4. What message does this poem convey?
A) be greedy
B) don’t help the poor
C) don’t be greedy and help the poor and hungry people D) All

Answers:- 1-D, 2-D, 3-C, 4-C

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