There is a Reaper, whose name is Death,
And, with his sickle keen,
He reaps the bearded grain at a breath,
And the flowers that grow between.

“Shall I have naught that is fair?” saith he;
“Have naught but the bearded grain?
Though the breath of these flowers is sweet to me,
I will give them all back again.”

He gazed at the flowers with tearful eyes,
He kissed their drooping leaves;
It was for the Lord of Paradise
He bound them in his sheaves.

“My Lord has need of these flowerets gay,”
The Reaper said, and smiled;
“Dear tokens of the earth are they,
Where he was once a child.

“They shall all bloom in fields of light,
Transplanted by my care,
And saints, upon their garments white,
These sacred blossoms wear.”

And the mother gave, in tears and pain,
The flowers she most did love;
She knew she should find them all again
In the fields of light above.

O, not in cruelty, not in wrath,
The Reaper came that day;
‘T was an angel visited the green earth,
And took the flowers away.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem The Reaper and the Flowers


  1. Wonderful comments! Obviiously, I was responding to Audrey’s astute analysis. I would love to read Jerry’s “Stone Garden.”

  2. joel says:

    the people that find the born again christian concept “insulting” or “i just dont see it” just dont understand how a writter uses metaphors. it is clear that the reaper is the death angel, “it is for the lord of paradise,” “and SAINTS upon their garments white” …it cant be any more clear.

    • Audrey says:

      L.p. pThe Reaper is Satan the death angel with his sickle keen readily to destroy both nonbelievers and believers of Jesus. In the second stanza Jesus shows mercy to those who are pleasing to Him. In the 3rd stanza the Lord shows grace to the dying believers keeping them in his care for eternity. In the 4th stanza God has a purpose for all His children on earth where Jesus was once a child. In the 5th stanza His children shall all be born again becoming new creations in Christ. Holy and pure. Our earthly mother in sadness and joy surrendered to the Lord her children having faith in God she will see them again in heaven. In the last stanza The life angel came and took the believers away.

  3. Sarah says:

    This is a beautiful, bittersweet poem. I see it as a tribute to all the children who die before their time has come. It was obviously not flippantly written and so shouldn’t be taken lightly.

  4. Christy says:

    Yes, it truly is hard to accept the death of a loved one at first. But this poem is sooo beautiful i shared it with my friend who recently lost her baby and it helped her deal a lot. I love this poem.

  5. Jake says:

    I’m not sure how anyone manages to see a “born-again” Christian inference in here… the implication is clearly towards children who die before their time. This seems to be more proof to me that religion exists as an explanation for that which appears particularly unpleasant or perplexing.

    Is it that hard to accept that sometimes people die?

  6. Eric says:

    I chose this poem for my English class and had to do an analysis on it. I’ve had to think a ton about this and I really think I have it. I think the flowers represent Born Again Christians and the sadness it is for God to literally kill them. But we see that it’s His plan and ultimately His plan is perfect. I think the Reaper is an angel from God, the fields of light is heaven, and the “bearded grain” are non-believers and the people of this world who will ultimately die and are not promised eternal life. I think the mother is Chirst and the “tears and pain,” is the suffering He did on the cross at calvary.

  7. jenny says:

    woo hoo reapers! fun stuff i tell ya!

  8. Natalka says:

    I just read the poem about five minutes ago. For the first time in my life, tears were streaming down my cheeks due to the sheer beauty of the verse and the what I felt was the meaning. All of the symbolism and the comments about the Lord of Paradise, and the mother that gave the flowers she loved the most lends itself to the fact that this poem was about Jesus and the day the reaper came for him to take him home. Along with with Jesus, he takes nearby flowers for the father…i feel it’s order to ease the pain of God who as stated in the poem was a child on this earth. Longfellow is beyond a doubt, wonderful.

  9. Gail says:

    We just returned from Boston and took the time
    to travel to Cambridge and tour the Longfellow house.
    Longfellow’s beloved wife, Frances Appleton Longfellow tragically
    died in 1861. She was helping her two young daughters and unfortunately was using hot wax on a project. Her dress caught fire.
    Longfellow tried desperately to put the fire out and his face and hands were burned. His dear Frences died from the fire. The two young daughters were ages 5 and 7 at the time. Longfellow never remarried and lived with his six children in the same house. His oldest daughter never married and took care of her father until his death in 1882. This poem shows how sensitive Longfellow was to many subjects including death. He wrote a poem about his wife but he never published it. It was too heartwrentching for him. It has just recently been released for publication. The Longfellow house is a National Historic Site. You can get information on the Longfellow House publication at It is well worth the trip to visit
    this site where General George Washington lived and planned his Revolutionary War strategies from 1775-1776. Taking the docent tour makes Longfellows poems come alive. You will really understand them better if you immerse yourself in the history of the place and the man and his family.

  10. Victor Brown says:

    It’s absolutely stupid it doesn’t rhyme either!

  11. rudy cubillos says:

    this poem was GREAT!!!! It was Freakin awsome!!!

  12. zoe says:

    I had a friend who died at a very young age and this poem struck me as very poignant. There are many poems out there which mourn the loss of the young as needless, but this poem expertly and beautifully gives the thought that their deaths are not cruel or pointless, but rather, God’s will.

  13. Kirsten says:

    I’m pretty sure that the “bearded grain” is just supposed to symbolize old folks in comparison to the young “flowerets.” I’m not sure though. But it does make sense that the Reaper would be tired of only taking older people, hence lines 5-6. And he also doesn’t want to give them up (lines 7-8).

  14. Beth says:

    This poem, “The Reaper and the Flowers”, gave me a different perspective (once again) with which to view death. I interperted the poem to mean that when beautiful people die they are “transplanted” to the glorious fields of heaven where they once again thrive and grow even more beautiful. Mothers look forward to seeing their “gardens” again once they die and go to heaven. So the flowers are planted, but then where does that leave the average “grain”? It’s just harvested and stored away? Longfellow has left me wondering.

    Maybe I missed something in the first two stanzas, though I don’t think so.

  15. Matt says:

    This is a very good poem. Once it mentions the mother in the last two stanzas, I realized it meant the souls of children. The comparison of a reaper in a field to the grim reaper himself in the world of men, taking the lives of beautiful things… The poem gives good imagery.

  16. Paul says:

    This was a good poem by Longfellow. When I understood that the flowers meant taking people’s souls, I thought it was a good comparison.

  17. David Murdoch says:

    I also thought that the comparison of the Grim reaper taking the flowers as to his taking of souls was quite good. Though at first it was kind of hard to see what Longfellow was talking about. I was going to say that putting the Grim reaper in a field of flowers was totally unethical and the flowers should have at least been wilting or dead.

  18. jerry says:

    I thoght the comparisn of the reaper and sickle taking the flower buds as to souls of people is so great.It also reminds me of a poem I wrote myself called STONE GARDEN..Although longfellow tends to be more lengthy than i like in poetry this is a great piece by him…………..jerry…aka,,,wbpoet

    • Beverly Scofield says:

      Seen from a natural, rather than religious, viewpoint, The Reaper is death but not Satan. While I understand there are those who hold the Christian/religious view and make it part of every breath and moment of their lives, I find great comfort that death is a natural–not judgmental or predictive of some result of actions taken or not taken by benighted humankind. Instead, though sorely grieved by those whose loved one has untimely departed, leaving them behind and bereft, when death is not a condemnation or a doorway into a judgment day, there is a certain peace. One looks around at the many sheaves of ripened wheat, whose bindings have captured too-early ended life. Here, a small green sprout reaching eagerly for the light, an infant gone too soon. There, a bright-tokened blossom of future goodness, a college scholar or prodigy or a loving heart for humanity cut short of realizing its potential. And then, oh, so untimely of all perhaps, the early buds of recognizable promised fruit never now to be revealed, as young people, ready to begin the flourishing, productive, bountiful, vigorous, rewarding time of life, a soldier going off to war never to return home. I cannot attribute such events, such explanations, to a thinking, benevolent being. I can accept a process of elemental interactions without emotion, consciousness, awareness of consequences. There is no cause for such events as untimely death–or death at all–it simply is. Finding comfort where we can is what we humans do, because we seem to contain all those “human qualities” the process itself is incapable of possessing! I wish you well in finding yours, Audrey, if your analysis expresses your personal beliefs as well as your analysis of the poet’s intentions. I hope you do the same for me. (Your analysis of the poem is, no doubt, what the poet believed. Perhaps, though I hear my voice in the poem, as well.)  We all seek peace.

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