“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting with the gift of speech.”
- Simonides of Ceos

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Saturday, May 4, 2019

“Excelsior” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem "Excelsior" in the early morning hours of September 28, 1841, and it was published for the first time in a periodical four months later. Excelsior is a Latin word which loosely translated means "ever upward" or "always higher". With that in mind, this poem could be interpreted as a sort of allegory on perseverance and always striving against the odds, or alternatively, blindly following your own desires without heeding the advice and counsel of others. Either way you choose to read the piece, it is beautifully written with lots of vivid imagery as the narrative unfolds.

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Program Credits

Announcer: Thomas Lamar
Narrator: J.D. Sutter
Composer: Natasha Green
Sound Design & Mixing: Christopher Green
Photography: skeeze
Producer/Director: J.D. Sutter

Entry on Wikipedia for "Excelsior"
Entry on Wikipedia for Longfellow
Longfellow's Bio on The Poetry Foundation
Analysis of "Excelsior" from poemanalysis.com
Summary of "Excelsior" from beamingnotes.com
Analysis of "Excelsior" from beamingnotes.com

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1868

“Excelsior” 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,

"Oh stay," the maiden said, "and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast! "
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But still 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 traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That 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,

Digital Scan of 1880 Illustrated Edition of "Excelsior" on Google Books