Monthly Archives: November 2018

Excelsior

For the past few years, I have taught a work by by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I chose it both because it is exemplary of the elements of poetry that I teach, and because it is a poem that inspired one of the most influential creative minds of this century, and a personal hero of mine. The poem is EXCELSIOR.

It is a poem about striving for something higher, loftier, greater—and never settling for average, even when it is tempting. In it, the protagonist of the narrative gives up his entire life in the pursuit of something higher, still proclaiming “Excelsior!” to the very end. Rather than regret what he might have missed along the way, his voice continues to ring out after death, chanting his refrain from the heavens.

Stan Lee is dead. And from the sky, serene and far, a voice fell like a falling star. Excelsior!

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,
Excelsior!

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,
Excelsior!

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,
Excelsior!

“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,
Excelsior!

“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,
Excelsior!

“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,
Excelsior!

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

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,
Excelsior!

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,
Excelsior!

Excelsior

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