A Legend of the Northland Summary

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NCERT Class 9 English poem A Legend of the Northland teaches us a strong moral that we should never be selfish and think of others too. The poem teaches us to be generous and to help the needy if we are capable of doing so. 

About the Poet

Phoebe Cary is a poetess in America. She is also the sister of poetess Alice Cary. Together and individually, they published many poems.  


The poem ‘A legend of the Northland’ is a folktale that is passed from one generation to another in Northland. It is a story that revolves around Saint Peter and the little woman who was punished for her selfishness. The legend teaches us not to be greedy and that we should possess the qualities of kindness and empathy. 

Summary of the poem A Legend of the Northland

A Legend of the Northland is folklore told to the children to instil this moral lesson. The poem talks about a little woman who was punished by saint Peter for refusing to give him any one of the cakes that she had baked. In the story, Saint Peter reaches the cottage of the little woman after travelling around the world. He was very tired and hungry. He was almost fainting due to hunger. Saint Peter asked her to give him one cake but the little woman’s greed and selfishness did not allow her to do so. While baking the smallest and thinnest of cakes, she felt that the cake was too big to give away for free. The behaviour of the woman provokes Saint Peter who curses her and changes her into a woodpecker. Saint Peter teaches a lesson to all humans that we must not be miserly and stingy.

Explanation by Stanzas

Stanza 1 and Stanza 2

Away Away, away in the North Land …………. In their funny, furry clothes.

In the first two stanzas of the poem, the poet describes the place where the story had originated. The story originated in the cold region of Northland where the days are short and nights are very long in winter. The people of the Northland couldn’t sleep in the nights due to extreme cold conditions. When the snow falls in Northland, the people living there tie their beautiful reindeers to sledges to travel. The children wear warm, furry clothes that make them look like bear cubs. 

Stanza 3 and Stanza 4

They tell them a curious story …… Just as he did, you know.

The third and fourth stanzas of the poem tell us that in Northland, parents tell their children a story. The poet does not think that the story is true but still tells the tale. The poet believes that it contains an important lesson which we all must learn. The poet then begins the tale. Once, Saint Peter lived on Earth as a human. He travelled the world teaching about God. 

Stanza 5 and Stanza 6

He came to the door of a cottage, ….. To give him a single one.

In the fifth and sixth stanzas of the poem, while travelling around the world, Saint Peter came to a cottage door. In the cottage, a little woman was baking cakes in the fireplace. Saint Peter had been fasting for the whole day and he was very hungry and tired. The day was now almost over. So, Saint Peter asked the woman to give him a cake from her store of cakes. 

Stanza 7 and Stanza 8

So she made a very little cake, …… As large as the first had done.

In the seventh and eighth stanzas of the poem, the woman started baking cake for Saint Peter but before she could give it to him, she felt that it was too big to give away. So, the woman went to make another small cake but when she turned it over, the cake looked as big as the first one. 

Stanza 9 and Stanza 10

Then she took a tiny scrap of dough, ………. So she put them on the shelf. 

In the ninth and tenth stanzas of the poem, the woman took a small piece of dough and rolled it as thin as she could. The cake baked from it was as thin as a wafer but the woman could not give that also to Saint Peter. She said that her cakes seemed too small when she would eat them. However, those cakes became too large to give away for free. Consequently, she put all the cakes on the shelf and did not give any cake to Saint Peter. 

Stanza 11 and Stanza 12

Then good Saint Peter grew angry, ………. And fire to keep you warm. 

In the eleventh and twelfth stanzas of the poem, the selfish behaviour of the woman made Saint Peter angry. He was very tired and hungry. It is not easy for a compassionate and kind saint like Saint Peter to become angry but the actions of the woman had been able to do so. Hence, Saint Peter told her that she was very selfish. She did not deserve to be a human being and live a comfortable life with good food to eat, a house to live in with fire to keep her warm. 

Stanza 13 and Stanza 14

Now, you shall build as the birds do, …….. For she was changed to a bird. 

In the thirteenth and fourteenth stanzas, Saint Peter cursed the woman and transformed her into a bird. As a bird, the woman would now have to build her own nest and get her own food. To get food, she must dig holes into the hard dry wood. As a result, the women went out through the chimney of her house without speaking a word. She has now changed into a woodpecker. 

Stanza 15 and Stanza 16

She had a scarlet cap on her head, ……. Boring and boring for food. 

As a human, the little woman wore a red cap. When she was converted into a woodpecker, only her red cap remained and all her clothes had burned. In other words, the woodpecker has a red head but the rest of its body is black. The poet then says that since then, every schoolboy has seen the woodpecker i.e. the little woman in the forest. She still lives there digging into the dry and hard wood to look for food. 

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. How has the Northland been described in the poem?

Ans. In the poem, Northland has been described as a cold polar region. The days are shorter and the nights are longer in this place. People of Northland cannot sleep all night because of the extremely long nights and bitter cold. At the place, people use sledges pulled by reindeers whenever the land is covered in snow. Further, people wear furry warm clothes to protect themselves from the cold. 

Q2. Who was Saint Peter? How did he reach the little woman’s cottage?

Ans. Saint Peter was one of the most honourable disciples or apostle of Jesus Christ. He travelled from place to place to preach what God had said. He reached the little woman’s cottage after travelling for a whole day while fasting. 

Q3. Did the little woman give any cake to Saint Peter? Why?

Ans. The little woman did not give any cake to Saint Peter because she was selfish and greedy. She did bake three cakes to give it to Saint Peter but felt that they were too big to be given away for free. So, she put all three of them on the shelf and did not give anything to the tired saint. 

Q4. Why was Saint Peter angry with the little woman?

Ans. Saint Peter was angry with the little woman because of her selfish and greedy nature. She refused to give him a cake to eat because of her greed. He believed that such behaviour should not be a characteristic of a human who lives a luxurious life.