Poetry corner: Excelsior (1841), by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,

His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,

In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,

“Try not the Pass!” the old man said;
“Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!”
And loud that clarion voice replied,

“O stay,” the maiden said, “and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast!”
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But steel he answered with a sigh,

“Beware the pine tree’s withered branch!
Beware the awful avalanche!”
This was the peasant’s last Good-night,
A voice replied, far up the height,

At break of day, as heavenward
The pious monks of Saint Bernard
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,
A voice cried through the startled air,

A traveler, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Sill grasping in his hand of ice
The banner with the strange device,

There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell, like a falling star,


  1. Madam Miaow said,

    November 25, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    What’s with the spammers who have suddenly descended onto your comment pages like falchions?

  2. babeuf said,

    November 26, 2007 at 2:12 am

    Splintered, allow me to add the following paranoid verse:

    Beware the SWP
    My friend, and can you not forsee
    the dreadful fate that Newman met
    When he by spammers was beset?
    John Rees at war!

  3. babeuf said,

    November 26, 2007 at 2:18 am

    OK, Splintered, since you’re moderating comments, maybe you could add the question mark the fourth line of my verse needs. Don’t post this comment, of course.

    Still haven’t worked out why you posted this, assuming it’s supposed to have some allegorical significance.

  4. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 26, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    Before long I’m going to descend like a falchion on my dashboard and do some serious weeding.

  5. babeuf said,

    November 26, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    splintered, are my comments not allowed here any more? The best part of a day has passed since I tried to post a comment, and nothing has appeared.

  6. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 27, 2007 at 10:47 am

    I apologise for that Babeuf – your comments were caught in an over-enthusiastic spam filter.

    I posted this because I like it, and nobody reads Longfellow any more 😦 although I’m sure some allegorical significance will come to mind. The lad overreaches, doesn’t he?

  7. Madam Miaow said,

    November 27, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Babeuf, have you seen the literary abuse challenge at Madam Miaow inspired by Splinty’s Julius Caesarand your crit? Please do have a go. Reckon you’d be good.

  8. babeuf said,

    November 28, 2007 at 1:06 am

    Madam Miaow,

    I’d wanted to post comments at your site for a long time, but your blog-provider has places obstacles in my way. Don’t I have to sell my soul to google (or yahoo, or whatever) first before I can communicate? But I’ll have another look.


    That’s OK, thanks. You can delete my whimpers of dismay now if you like. I was only trying to impress Madam Miaow anyway. I blame the Lyrical Terrorist for inspiring me to try my hand at poetry again.

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