"A Legend of the Northland" is a narrative poem by Phoebe Cary, which tells a curious story set in the snowy, cold Northland. The poem begins with a description of the Northland, where the days are short, and the nights are long in winter. The people of this land harness reindeer to sledges and wear furry clothes to keep themselves warm. They tell a story, which may or may not be true, about a little woman who lived there.
The poem then introduces Saint Peter, who is travelling around the earth, preaching to people. He comes across a cottage where a little woman is baking cakes on the hearth. Being faint with fasting, he asks her to give him a single cake from her store. She makes a small cake, but while it is baking, she thinks it seems too large to give away. So she takes a tiny scrap of dough and rolls it flat, baking it thin as a wafer, but even this she cannot part with. She puts them both on the shelf, saying that her cakes, which seem too small when she eats them herself, are yet too large to give away.
Saint Peter grows angry and frustrated with the little woman, who he believes is being selfish and uncharitable. He curses her and tells her she will have to work for her food like the birds do, by boring, and boring, and boring, all day in the hard, dry wood. The little woman, who had a scarlet cap on her head, is left with burned clothes that have turned black as coal in the flame.
The poem concludes with a lesson to be learned from the story of the little woman. It teaches that we should be generous and willing to share what we have with others, no matter how small it may seem. The little woman's reluctance to share her cakes resulted in her having to work hard for her food, while her small act of generosity could have made a big difference to Saint Peter's hunger. The poem is a simple but effective reminder of the importance of kindness and charity.