Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
 
Birds of Passage
Flight the First.
Sandalphon
 
HAVE you read in the Talmud of old,
In the Legends the Rabbins have told
  Of the limitless realms of the air,
Have you read it,—the marvellous story
Of Sandalphon, the Angel of Glory,        5
  Sandalphon, the Angel of Prayer?
 
How, erect, at the outermost gates
Of the City Celestial he waits,
  With his feet on the ladder of light,
That, crowded with angels unnumbered,        10
By Jacob was seen, as he slumbered
  Alone in the desert at night?
 
The Angels of Wind and of Fire
Chant only one hymn, and expire
  With the song’s irresistible stress;        15
Expire in their rapture and wonder,
As harp-strings are broken asunder
  By music they throb to express.
 
But serene in the rapturous throng,
Unmoved by the rush of the song,        20
  With eyes unimpassioned and slow,
Among the dead angels, the deathless
Sandalphon stands listening breathless
  To sounds that ascend from below;—
 
From the spirits on earth that adore,        25
From the souls that entreat and implore
  In the fervor and passion of prayer;
From the hearts that are broken with losses,
And weary with dragging the crosses
  Too heavy for mortals to bear.        30
 
And he gathers the prayers as he stands,
And they change into flowers in his hands,
  Into garlands of purple and red;
And beneath the great arch of the portal,
Through the streets of the City Immortal        35
  Is wafted the fragrance they shed.
 
It is but a legend, I know,—
A fable, a phantom, a show,
  Of the ancient Rabbinical lore;
Yet the old mediæval tradition,        40
The beautiful, strange superstition,
  But haunts me and holds me the more.
 
When I look from my window at night,
And the welkin above is all white,
  All throbbing and panting with stars,        45
Among them majestic is standing
Sandalphon the angel, expanding
  His pinions in nebulous bars.
 
And the legend, I feel, is a part
Of the hunger and thirst of the heart,        50
  The frenzy and fire of the brain,
That grasps at the fruitage forbidden,
The golden pomegranates of Eden,
  To quiet its fever and pain.
 
 
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