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When writing to his father of the appearance of his new volume of poems, Mr. Longfellow said: “I think the last two pieces the best, — perhaps as good as anything I have written.'' These pieces were the following and Excelsior. Maidenhood was published in the Southern Literary Messenger for January, 1842.

MAIDEN ! with the meek, brown eyes,
In whose orbs a shadow lies
Like the dusk in evening skies !

Thou whose locks outshine the sun,
Golden tresses, wreathed in one,
As the braided streamlets run !

Standing, with reluctant feet,
Where the brook and river meet,
Womanhood and childhood fleet!


Gazing, with a timid glance,
On the brooklet's swift advance,
On the river's broad expanse !

Deep and still, that gliding stream
Beautiful to thee must seem,
As the river of a dream.


Then why pause with indecision,
When bright angels in thy vision
Beckon thee to fields Elysian ?

Seest thou shadows sailing by,
As the dove, with startled eye,
Sees the falcon's shadow fly?

Hearest thou voices on the shore,
That our ears perceive no more,
Deafened by the cataract's roar ?

Oh, thou child of many prayers !
Life hath quicksands, — Life hath snares!
Care and age come unawares !

Like the swell of some sweet tune,
Morning rises into noon,
May glides onward into June.

Childhood is the bough, where slumbered Birds and blossoms many-numbered ; Age, that bough with snows encumbered.

Gather, then, each flower that grows,
When the young heart overflows,
To embalm that tent of snows.

Bear a lily in thy hand ;
Gates of brass cannot withstand
One touch of that magic wand.

Bear through sorrow, wrong, and ruth,
In thy heart the dew of youth,
On thy lips the smile of truth.

Oh, that dew, like balm, shall steal
Into wounds that cannot heal,
Even as sleep our eyes doth seal ;

And that smile, like sunshine, dart
Into many a sunless heart,
For a smile of God thou art.


The original manuscript of Excelsior, showing the several drafts and interlineations, is preserved in the library of Harvard University. It was written on the back of a note from Mr. Sumner, and is dated at the close : “September 28, 1841. Half past 3 o'clock, morning. Now to bed.” The suggestion of the poem came to Mr. Longfellow from a scrap of newspaper, a part of the heading of one of the New York journals, bearing the seal of the State, -a shield, with a rising sun, and the motto Excelsior. The intention of the poem was intimated in a letter from Mr. Longfellow written some time after to Mr. C. K. Tuck


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"I have had the pleasure of receiving your note in regard to the poem Excelsior and very willingly give you my intention in writing it. This was no more than to display, in a series of pictures, the life of a man of genius, resisting all temptations, laying aside all fears, heedless of all warnings, and pressing right on to accomplish his purpose. His motto is Excelsior — 'higher.' He passes through the Alpine village — through the rough, cold paths of the world — where the peasants cannot understand him, and where his watchword is in an unknown tongue.' He disregards the happiness of domestic peace and sees the glaciers — his fate - before him. He disregards the warning of the old man's wisdom and the fascinations of woman's love. He answers to all, ‘Higher yet!' The monks of St. Bernard are the representatives of religious forms and ceremonies, and with their oftrepeated prayer mingles the sound of his voice, telling them there is something higher than forms and ceremonies. Filled with these aspirations, he perishes ; without having reached the perfection he longed for; and the voice heard in the air is the promise of immortality and progress ever upward. You will perceive that Excelsior, an adjective of the comparative degree, is used adverbially; a use justified by the best Latin writers." This he afterwards found to be a mistake, and explained excelsior as the last word of the phrase Scopus meus excelsior.

Five years after writing this poem, Mr. Longfellow made the following entry in his diary: “ December 8, 1846. Looking over Brainard's poems, I find, in a piece called The Mocking-Bird, this

I passage:

Now his note
Mounts to the play-ground of the lark, high up
Quite to the sky. And then again it falls
As a lost star falls down into the marsh.

Now, when in Excelsior I said :

A voice fell like a falling star,

Brainard's poem was not in my mind, nor had I in all probability ever read it. Felton said at the time that the same image was in Euripides, or Pindar, I forget which. Of a truth, one cannot strike a spade into the soil of Parnassus, without disturbing the bones of some dead poet.”

In the notes at the end of this volume will be found an analysis of the poem by the editor, based upon the changes made by the poet in original drafts. Dr. Holmes remarks of Excelsior that the repetition of the aspiring exclamation which gives its name to the poem, lifts every stanza a step higher than the one which preceded it.”

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,

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