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,

Analysis, meaning and summary of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Excelsior


  1. Publicola says:

    P.G. Wodehouse wrote a highly hilarious short story, “Excelsior”, one of many golf stories by P.G. Wodehouse, narrated by the Oldest Member, published in 1948.
    The Protagonist of “Excelsior”, Horace Bewstrigde, in love with Vera Witherby, the niece of Ponsford Potts, renounces love and job in preference to win a game of golf – comparable to the young man in the poem “Excelsior” who gives up everything trying to achieve his aim, to climb the mountain.

  2. Publicola says:

    Dear Ms Lilie Robertson,
    obviously the poem Excelsior has been translated into French by Henriette Hollard and was
    published in a collection/anthology of poetry “Gems of modern French poetry” by Jules Lazare, Libairie Hachette, London, Paris, 1899, pp. 47-49.

    It is available or rather readable online.

  3. Nathania Ahlbrecht says:

    Excelsior means “ever higher” in Latin, loosely translated “onward and upward,” according to this website:

  4. karl Blau says:

    This poem was also sent up in the popular song “Upidee Upida”

  5. student says:

    could someone explain what the strange object in his hand is… Thanks!!! Please sooner than later as this is for a project..


  6. LJ says:

    Quite brilliant..optimistic yet reminds us of our mortality. One word of advise ppl…not all poetry
    has a hidden moral, same as an abstract painting does
    not always have a “meaning”. You see what you want to see and you feel what you want to read.

  7. Riane says:

    I believe this poem is more about overcoming pain and is directly influenced by the death of his second wife, Frances Appleton. She died while sealing their five children’s curls with a candle and wax. The packages suddenly errupted into flame causing burns from which she later died. The curls of hair could be connected with the second meaning of the word Excelsior- slender curly wood shavings used primarily for packing. When the villagers beg the banner bearer not to try the pass, it represents Mr Longfellow’s contemplation of suicide. Instead Mr. Longfellow, like the character in his poetry, pushed through the storm and continued on, head and banner held higher than pain and suffering. But that is just my opinion of the poem.

  8. Nick Marshall says:

    I am not a fan of peotry perse, I am more a novelist, but when I read this poem it really connected with me. I am now using it as a base text in a peice of A-level coursework and every time I read it I find new meaning in the poem. Very well written – you can read into it as much or as little as you like and I think that is why Longfellows poems are still so popular so long after his passing.

  9. Ruth says:

    I think this poem is really about innerself. Yeah and that it’s more of a thing like with barbie and ken like sometimes they don’t understand each other, but they still sometimes get along. yeah that’s what i think about this poem.. bye

  10. AnDrEW m. says:

    I like this poem. Even though it does not really come out and show the moral or point of the poem. It does give quite a few cules, but sort of leaves the reader hanging. The only thing he did bad was the point of making the moral of the poem too hard too find.

  11. AnDrEW m. says:

    I like this poem. Even though it does not really come out and show the moral or point of the poem. It does give quite a few cules, but sort of leaves the reader hanging. The only thing he did bad was the point of making the moral of the poem too hard too find.

  12. OceansOfGrace says:

    Excelsior: higher (Latin).

  13. Alon Diamant says:

    It is about transcending man, sort of like Nietschze’s ubermensch. To face the task that you must overcome, to be all that you can be, you must leave all comfort and fear behind.

  14. l33t0n3 says:

    Not exactly anti-transcendentalism, but goes against the flow of the transcendentalist theory anyways, due to the fact that it supports duty to your nation over duty to yourself. The character in the poem is set on supporting his nation, despite danger to himself. While the poem is not very complicated and is easy to understand, it is still well written and gets the point across well.

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