CBSE Class 9 English poetry A Legend of the Northland Poem Summary and Notes


Stanza 1&2


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;

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 poet here introduces the setting for her storey, the ‘Northland,’ where the days are short and the nights are long in the winter.

It is so cold during that season that people are unable to sleep through the night and frequently awaken.

Due to the length of the nights, they are also unable to sleep through the night.

When the snow falls, people enjoy going sledding and pulling their sledges with reindeer.

Due to the cold, children dress in heavy woollen and fur garments that completely cover them and give them the appearance of bear cubs.

Stanza 3&4


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.

Once, when the good Saint Peter

Lived in the world below,

And walked about it, preaching,

Just as he did, you know,



In line 1, the terms ‘they’ and ‘them’ refer to the parents or elders and ‘they’ and ‘them’ refer to the children or younger generation, respectively.

The elders of the Northland region tell the younger generation a strange and intriguing tale.

The poet states that while he does not believe the story is accurate, he believes that by telling it to the reader, the reader may learn a lesson.

The narrative conveys a vital message. Saint Peter is the subject of the tale.

When Saint Peter lived in the world and gave religious lectures to the people, as all saints do, an incident occurred.

Stanza 5&6


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;

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.



While Saint Peter travelled the world giving religious lectures, he came to the door of a cottage where a small woman was baking cakes.

She was baking the cakes over an open fire.

Saint Peter was extremely hungry and felt weak due to the fact that he had not eaten anything all day.

As a result, he approached this woman who was baking cakes and requested one of the numerous cakes she had baked.

Stanza 7&8


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.

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 woman was selfish.

She did not present a cake from her bakery. Rather than that, she began baking a very small cake for Saint Peter.

She was adamant about not sharing her possessions.

However, when she placed the cake in the oven to bake, she looked at it and decided that it was too large to give to someone.

The little miser woman considered the cake to be too large to give away.

As a result, she began making another smaller cake.

When she looked at that cake, she had the same sensation as she had with the previous one.

Again, she was hesitant to present Saint Peter with this smaller cake.

Stanza 9&10


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.

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 third time, she rolled a very small portion of dough.

The poet uses the phrase “rolled and rolled” to emphasise the fact that she rolled the dough, thinned it to the consistency of a wafer, and baked it.

However, she was so greedy that she was unable to give the saint that small piece of bread.

The woman reasoned that while she enjoyed the cakes, she felt they were quite small, but if she had to give them away, she felt they were far too large.

She stacked all the cakes in her kitchen and did not give any to Saint Peter.

Stanza 11&12


Then good Saint Peter grew angry,

For he was hungry and faint;

And surely such a woman

Was enough to provoke a saint.

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 grew angry.

He was extremely hungry, he felt extremely weak, and the self-centered woman was unwilling to give him even a small cake.

The saint was enraged by the greedy woman’s behaviour.

Saint Peter cursed the woman, describing her as extremely selfish.

She lacked the capacity to live as a human being.

He added that God had provided her with food, shelter, and a fire to keep warm, but she had become self-centered with all of her resources.

She was determined not to share them with anyone.

Stanza 13&14


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.”

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.



Saint Peter cursed the woman, stating that she would be transformed into a bird as a result of her lack of deserving the human form.

She will transform into a bird, and just as birds build their homes by boring into the wood and collecting very little food by working hard all day, she will work all day in the dry wood, collecting very little food and constructing a small home for herself.

As soon as Saint Peter cursed the woman, she flew up to the roof through the chimney and flew out in the form of a bird.

The woman had been transformed into a bird as a result of Saint Peter’s curse.

Stanza 15&16


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.

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.



When the woman transformed into a bird, she was wearing a red-colored cap on her head at the time.

This cap was also present on the bird’s head, but the woman’s remaining clothing had burned and turned coal black.

People who live in rural areas, including small children who attend school, have seen this type of bird in the woods.

They observe her spending the entire day there, digging the wood with her beak to collect food.

If a child sees this type of bird, his elders will tell him this story.

They claim that the bird was previously a woman.

She was extremely greedy, and as a result, Saint Peter cursed her and transformed her into a bird.

They are taught not to be greedy.

Central idea of poem


A Legend of the Northland is a lengthy poem in which the poet describes the dangers of greed.

The poet discusses a tale that he believes is fictional yet moral in this poem.

In this poem, a woman is cursed for denying food to a saint due to her greed.

She is transformed into a woodpecker and spends the remainder of her life scavenging for food.



Which country or countries do you think ‘the Northland’ refers to?

Ans. The name and description imply that ‘the Northland’ refers to the world’s northern polar region, most likely the Northern regions of Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

What did Saint Peter ask the old lady for? What was the lady’s reaction?

Ans. Saint Peter requested one of the old lady’s baked goods to quench his hunger, as he had been fasting all day. The lady baked three cakes in succession, each smaller than the previous one, but she couldn’t bear to give any of them away.

How did he punish her?

Ans. He punished her by transforming her into a woodpecker who built her nest ‘as birds do’ and spent her days boring in ‘hard, dry wood’ in search of food.

How does the woodpecker get her food?

Ans. The woodpecker obtains her food (worms and insects) through boreholes in trees. They are well-known for tapping on tree trunks in search of insects hiding in tree holes.

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?

Ans. No, if the old lady had known who Saint Peter truly was, she would not have been so ungenerous. Rather than that, she would have attempted to appease him with her cakes in order to fulfil her desires

Is this a true story? Which part of this poem do you feel is the most important?

Ans. No, this is not true; it is a legend, as humans cannot be transformed into woodpeckers. The point in the tale where the little woman transforms into a woodpecker, I believe, is the most significant. This is because the woman’s punishment teaches us the importance of generosity and charity.

What is a legend? Why is this poem called a legend?

Ans. A legend is an ancient folktale, usually with a moral. It is intended to be read aloud to children in this instance. The poet expresses her disbelief in the tale’s veracity. This poem is referred to as a ‘legend’ because it preaches the virtue of generosity toward other beings.

Write the story of ‘A Legend of the Northland’ in about ten sentences.

Ans. Saint Peter once paid a visit to an elderly lady’s cottage because he was hungry and weak following the day’s fasting. On the hearth, the lady was baking cakes. Due to his weakness from fasting, he requested a cake from her bakery.

The self-centered lady attempted to bake small cakes but they were always too large for her to give away. Finally, she baked a wafer-thin one. Unable to part with it as well, she placed it on a shelf and did not present the Saint with any cake.

As a result, Saint Peter became enraged at her behaviour, declaring that she was too self-centered to live as a human being with food, shelter, and a fire to keep her warm. He punished her by transforming her into a woodpecker, which required her to build a nest and bore holes in tree trunks for food.

Her clothes were set on fire, and she flew out through the chimney wearing only her scarlet cap. Even now, she continues to live in the woods and is visible to all rural schoolboys.

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