The poem is a meditation about the Charles, an 80-mile long meandering river located in the eastern state of Massachusetts in the U.S. The river takes a meandering route and travels through 23 cities and towns before reaching the Atlantic Ocean at Boston. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) lived near the river for four years.

The river was special to him for a variety of reasons, teaching him the truth of life. In the poem, Longfellow expresses his gratitude to it plus the river reminds him of three close friends- his lifelong friend, a fellow poet Nathaniel Hawthorne, his first wife and childhood friend Mary Storer Potter, who died in 1835 after a miscarriage, and his second wife, Frances Appleton who died in 1861 after sustaining burns when her dress caught fire.

There are 10 Stanzas in the poem and each stanza consists of four rhyming lines.

A sort of eulogy to the river starts the poem as the reader is introduced to the image of the river silently winding through the meadows. “River! That in silence windest / Through the meadows, bright and free, / Till at length thy rest thou fondest / In the bosom of the Sea!”

There are many literary devices sprinkled throughout the poem including personification, when Longfellow invests the river with the ability to hear and feel; metaphors, comparing the river with a mother’s bosom or a stream of life and alliteration appears in the phrase, “generous giver.”

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