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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Birds of Passage

Flight the First. Santa Filomena

  • Published in the first number of the Atlantic Monthly, November, 1857. “For the legend,” Mr. Longfellow writes to Mr. Sumner, “see Mrs. Jameson’s Legendary Art. The modern application you will not miss. In Italian, one may say Filomela or Filomena.” The reference is to Miss Florence Nightingale, who rendered great service in the hospitals during the Crimean War.

  • WHENE’ER a noble deed is wrought,

    Whene’er is spoken a noble thought,

    Our hearts, in glad surprise,

    To higher levels rise.

    The tidal wave of deeper souls

    Into our inmost being rolls,

    And lifts us unawares

    Out of all meaner cares.

    Honor to those whose words or deeds

    Thus help us in our daily needs,

    And by their overflow

    Raise us from what is low!

    Thus thought I, as by night I read

    Of the great army of the dead,

    The trenches cold and damp,

    The starved and frozen camp,—

    The wounded from the battle-plain,

    In dreary hospitals of pain,

    The cheerless corridors,

    The cold and stony floors.

    Lo! in that house of misery

    A lady with a lamp I see

    Pass through the glimmering gloom,

    And flit from room to room.

    And slow, as in a dream of bliss,

    The speechless sufferer turns to kiss

    Her shadow, as it falls

    Upon the darkening walls.

    As if a door in heaven should be

    Opened and then closed suddenly,

    The vision came and went,

    The light shone and was spent.

    On England’s annals, through the long

    Hereafter of her speech and song,

    That light its rays shall cast

    From portals of the past.

    A Lady with a Lamp shall stand

    In the great history of the land,

    A noble type of good,

    Heroic womanhood.

    Nor even shall be wanting here

    The palm, the lily, and the spear,

    The symbols that of yore

    Saint Filomena bore.