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A Legend of the Northland | NCERT Solution | CBQs

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Lesson Architecture

Author Biography

  • Phobe Cary is an American poetess.

  • She was required to do household chores due to which she could not attend school on a regular basis and was self-taught.

  • She lost her mother at an early age and her step-mother was totally against their literary ambitions.

  • She was an advocate of women’s rights.

  • Some of her literary works include poems of Alice and Phoebe Cary, Poems of Faith, Hope and Love and Ballads for Little folk.


  • The central idea of the poem is that one should not be greedy and self-centred.

  • The poem highlights that we should have values like love, fellow-feeling, sympathy and charity and serve humanity in whatever small way we can.

  • People with negative, inhuman values like selfishness, greed and cruelty are ultimately punished.

  • This poem narrates the legend of an old lady who angered Saint Peter because of her greed.

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;


Northland – a place near north pole.

hours of the day : duration of the day

sleep them through : Night hours are so long that falls short of sleep.


  • This poem narrates a legend ( a historical story) about an old woman who lived in the cold Northland.

  • Northland is near the polar region where the duration of the day is very less. Night hours, on the other hand, are so long that one cannot sleep them through. That is to say, one falls short of sleep at 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:


harness – tie the reindeers with a rope to a sledge.

Children look like bear’s cubs : children look like young ones of a bear because they wear clothes made of fur which is like the furry skin of a bear.


  • The people of this place tie the reindeer with a rope to a sledge for transportation when the place is covered with snow.

  • Children look like young ones of a bear because they wear clothes made of fur which is like the furry skin of a bear.

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.


  • They tell them – The elders of the Northland region tell an interesting story to the younger generation.

  • If I tell the tale to you: The poet says that if he tells the readers the same story, they will learn a lesson.

Stanza 4

Once, when the good Saint Peter

Lived in the world below,

And walked about it, preaching,

Just as he did, you know,


Saint Peter: apostle/follower of Jesus Christ.

preaching: give religious talks.

Paraphrase: When Saint Peter who roamed around giving religious talks, one incident took place.

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;


hearth: fireplace where cooking is done.


While preaching to various places, he arrived at a cottage where a short-heighted woman was making cakes and baking them on the fireplace.

Stanza 6

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.


faint: weak and dizzy

day was almost done: it’s getting dark.


The saint being weak with keeping fast and the day being almost over, he asked a piece of cake from her store of cakes.

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


baking lay: when the cake was kept for baking, it appeared to be large.


  • As the saint asked for a single piece of cake, the little woman a very little cake. But as she lay it for baking, it appeared to be too large a cake to give it the saint.

  • The little woman was a selfish woman and wanted to give the saint only a small single cake.

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.


kneaded: make moistened flour into a dough.


  • In order to give a small cake to the saint, she kneaded another small dough.

  • But again when she turned it over while baking the cake, it appeared to be as large as the first cake.

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.


tiny scrap : a very small part of dough.

Dough: a thick malleable mixture of flour and water used for baking a cake, bread etc.


  • In order to serve a small cake, the little woman took a small dough and rolled it flat.

  • She baked the dough as thin as a wafer. But again she could not give this small cake to the saint.

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.


too small When I eat of them myself: Whenever the woman eats the cake herself, it becomes very small.

Are yet too large to give away: But she makes the same-sized cake for the saint, it appears to be large enough.


  • She thought that when she eats the cake herself, it becomes very small.

  • But when she makes the same-sized cake for the saint, it appears to be large enough.

  • Therefore, she decides to put the cake on the shelf.

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.


to provoke a saint : to anger a saint.


  • As the saint was very hungry and weak as a result of keeping fast for the whole day, he became angry when the woman delayed in serving a cake to him.

  • Such a selfish and greedy woman angered the saint.

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.


You are far too selfish To dwell in a human form: the woman is so selfish that she does not deserve to live in the form of a human being.


  • The said told the woman angrily that as she was very selfish, she did not deserve to live in the society as human being.

  • He further told her that she did not deserve to have food, shelter and fire to keep her warm like the other human beings.

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.”


Scanty food: very little food.

Boring : make a hole in something with a tool.

Wood: Here the trunk of a tree.


  • The saint cursed the woman saying that henceforth she has build her nest as the birds do and get insufficient food.

  • She has to work hard for the whole day by boring all day in the dry wood.

  • Note: The woodpecker gets her food by boring holes into trees. Woodpeckers drill on trees and extract insects with their long bills from deep within a hole of a tree.

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.


through the chimney: through the hole of the chimney attached to the roof of the house.

out of the top : from the top end of the chimney.


  • The woman in the shape of a woodpecker went through the hole in the chimney silently.

  • From the top of the chimney a woodpecker was seen flying in the open space as the woman was changed into a woodpecker.

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.


scarlet cap: brilliant red colour crown that a woodpecker has on her head.

that was left the same: the old woman in the guise of a woodpecker also had scarlet cap on her head.


  • Like the woodpecker has a scarlet cap on her head, she too was having the same.

  • The rest of the clothes in her body were burned completely in the flame.

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.


country schoolboy : school boy belong to a village.

wood: Here a small forest covered with trees.


  • When she became a woodpecker, all the school boys in a village was able to see her in the wood.

  • Henceforth she lived in the wood in the trees boring the trunk of the trees for her food.


  • The poem puts forward the idea that one should not be selfish, but always try to be helpful towards the needy.

  • A person having selfish nature is likely to end up being cursed.

  • The poem describes about Northland where nights are longer than days.

  • Saint Peter while wandering in different places for preaching the words of God, arrived at woman's cottage.

  • He was very hungry for keeping fast for the whole day and was feeling very weak.

  • He asked for a single cake from the woman when the day was getting over.

  • The lady was baking cakes on the hearth. The lady tried to make a tiny cake for him. But as she was baking even a small dough which she made appeared to be large enough to give away to the saint.

  • The saint became very angry and cursed her and she became a woodpecker.

  • She was made a woodpecker so that she had to work hard to manage her food.

  • She was found to be in the woods by the schoolboys in the countryside.

NCERT Solution

Thinking About the Poem ( Page 67)

1. Which country or countries do you think 'the Northland' refers to ?

Ans: The Northland refers to one of the cold countries close to the north pole. The countries might include Norway, Iceland , Sweden or Finland.

2. What did Saint Peter ask the lady for? What was the lady's reaction?

Ans: Saint Peter asked the lady for a single cake. He felt hungry owing to his fast for the whole day and was feeling very weak.

The lady was selfish enough to serve the Saint. She baked a small cake for him, but then thought it was too large to give away.

3. How did he punish her?

Ans: Saint Peter punished the woman by changing her into a woodpecker. She had build the nest 'as birds do' and manage her food by boring all day in ' dry hard wood.'

4. How does the woodpecker get her food?

Ans: The woodpecker gets her food by suing her long bill to peck at the trunks of the tree and makes holes in the them. In this process she finds out insects from the 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?

Ans: The old lady was selfish by nature. Selfishness was her inherent character trait. Therefore, she would remain ungenerous irrespective of who the person she was serving to. But of course the degree of her ungenerous trait would have been less if she discovered that the person was Saint Peter.

She would have eventually served him for the fear of being punished by the saint. Her underlying fear for the failure in serving the Saint would have forced her to serve the Saint.

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

Ans: No, it is not a true story. It is a legend.

The most important part of the story is when the old woman was converted into a woodpecker as a result of the Saint's curse. It is important because the lady was punished due to her selfish and narrow mindedness. It teaches us the lesson that we should be humane and generous towards other human beings.

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

Ans: A legend is a popular story about a person or an incidence passed down to us from generations in the past.

This poem is a legend as there is no historical fact attached to it. We cannot verify the source of the story. The miraculous incidence of converting a woman into a woodpecker seems to be next to impossible from the perspective of any logic.

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

Ans: While preaching to various places, Saint Peter arrived at a cottage where a small woman was making cakes and baking them on the fireplace. He demanded a single cake from her. The lady being selfish did not serve him any cake. She angered the saint who was hungry and weak after a day's fast. He told her that she did not deserve to live as human being in the society. She had no right to have food, shelter and fire to keep herself warmth like a normal human being. He cursed her and she became a woodpecker. She had to build her nest like birds do. She had to work hard all day and manage her food by boring all day in ' dry hard wood.' Henceforth she lived in the wood in the trees being seen by country school boys everyday.

Bonus Information
Folklore and its Use in Literature
  • Folklore is the traditional knowledge, customs, stories, and practices passed down through generations in various cultures.

  • It has ancient origins, evolving from oral traditions before being recorded in written form.

  • Folklore served as a way for communities to explain natural phenomena, teach moral lessons, and celebrate cultural identity.

  • In literature, folklore has been a rich source of inspiration, with authors often incorporating folktales, myths, and legends into their works.

  • Classic authors like the Brothers Grimm used folklore to create enduring fairy tales.

  • Modern literature also draws on folklore, with authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling creating intricate fictional worlds steeped in myth and legend.

  • Folklore continues to influence and enrich literature across genres and cultures.

History of Ballad
  • Ballads have a rich history spanning centuries.

  • Originating in medieval Europe, ballads were initially oral storytelling songs passed down through generations.

  • They often featured themes of love, tragedy, and heroism.

  • In the 16th and 17th centuries, they gained popularity in written form and were published as broadside ballads.

  • During the 19th century, the Romantic movement revitalized the ballad tradition. Folklorists collected and preserved traditional ballads.

  • In the 20th century, the folk revival brought a resurgence of interest in this form of storytelling through music.

  • Ballads continue to evolve, influencing modern music and literature, and remain an essential part of cultural heritage worldwide.

How is the poem a ballad?

The Legend of Northland" by Phoebe Cary exhibits several characteristics of a ballad

1. Narrative Structure : Ballads typically have a narrative structure, and this poem tells a story about a woman who encounters Saint Peter and is transformed into a woodpecker as a consequence of her actions.

2. Simplicity and Directness : Ballads are known for their simple and direct language, and this poem employs straightforward storytelling that is easy to understand.

3. Repetition and Refrain While not as prominent as in some traditional ballads, the poem does feature repetition. The refrain, "Boring and boring for food," is used to emphasize the woman's transformation and her new life as a woodpecker.

4. Folklore and Legend : Ballads often draw from folklore and legend, and this poem incorporates elements of folklore in its storytelling, including the use of a supernatural figure (Saint Peter) and a moral lesson.

5. Moral Lesson: Many traditional ballads convey moral lessons, and "The Legend of Northland" serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of selfishness, which aligns with the didactic nature of ballads.

While it may not fit all traditional ballad conventions, "The Legend of Northland" shares several characteristics with this genre, making it a ballad-like poem in terms of its storytelling style and thematic elements.

Competency Based Questions

1. How does the transformation of the woman into a woodpecker serve as a moral lesson? Give examples of how this lesson can apply to real-life situations.

2. In the poem, Saint Peter punishes the woman for her selfishness. Can you think of any other stories, legends, or fables where supernatural or divine figures intervene to teach a moral lesson? What is the common theme in such stories?

3. Discuss the significance of folklore in the poem. How does the use of folklore elements contribute to the storytelling and the moral lesson in "The Legend of Northland"?

4. Think about a personal experience or a well-known anecdote where selfishness had consequences. How does this story or situation relate to the themes of the poem?

5. How might the story of the woman's transformation into a woodpecker be applied as a cautionary tale to encourage kindness and generosity in our own lives and society?

6. The woodpecker in the poem represents transformation. Can you think of other stories or myths where characters undergo significant transformations, and what do those transformations symbolize?

Sample Answers

Ans 1: Transformation as a Moral Lesson**: The transformation of the woman into a woodpecker serves as a moral lesson by illustrating the consequences of selfishness. In real life, this lesson can apply to situations where individuals prioritize their own needs and desires without considering the well-being of others. It highlights the importance of empathy, compassion, and the potential negative outcomes of selfish behavior.

Ans 2: Supernatural Intervention in Moral Stories : Many stories, like Aesop's fables or parables from various religions, involve supernatural or divine figures intervening to teach moral lessons. The common theme in such stories is that actions have consequences, and moral behaviour is rewarded while immoral behaviour leads to negative outcomes.

Ans 3: Folklore's Contribution: The use of folklore elements in the poem adds depth to the storytelling. It connects the narrative to cultural traditions and enhances the sense of wonder and mystery in the story. Folklore also makes the lesson relatable by drawing on familiar elements from cultural heritage.

Ans 4. Consequences of Selfishness: The poem's moral lesson about selfishness relates to real-life scenarios where selfish actions can harm relationships or lead to missed opportunities. Anecdotes about people who prioritize their needs at the expense of others often highlight the long-term negative consequences of such behavior.

Ans 5. Cautionary Tale for Kindness: The story of the woman's transformation into a woodpecker can be applied as a cautionary tale to encourage kindness and generosity by reminding people that their actions have consequences. It encourages individuals to think beyond their own interests and consider the well-being of others.

Ans 6: Transformation Symbolism: Transformation in stories often symbolizes personal growth, change, or the consequences of one's actions. The woodpecker's transformation in the poem represents the woman's change from a selfish individual to a creature that must labor for its food as a consequence of her actions. This transformation is a symbol of her new life and the moral lesson that accompanies it.

These answers illustrate how the themes and elements of the poem can be applied to real-life situations and broader cultural contexts to convey moral lessons and encourage reflection on human behavior and its consequences.



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