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

Voices of the Night

Footsteps of Angels

  • The poem in its first form bore the title Evening Shadows. The reference in the fourth stanza is to the poet’s friend and brother-in-law George W. Pierce, of whom he said long after: “I have never ceased to feel that in his death something was taken from my own life which could never be restored.” News of his friend’s death reached Mr. Longfellow in Heidelberg on Christmas eve, 1835, less than a month after the death of Mrs. Longfellow, who is referred to in the sixth and following stanzas.

  • WHEN the hours of Day are numbered,

    And the voices of the Night

    Wake the better soul, that slumbered,

    To a holy, calm delight;

    Ere the evening lamps are lighted,

    And, like phantoms grim and tall,

    Shadows from the fitful firelight

    Dance upon the parlor wall;

    Then the forms of the departed

    Enter at the open door;

    The beloved, the true-hearted,

    Come to visit me once more;

    He, the young and strong, who cherished

    Noble longings for the strife,

    By the roadside fell and perished,

    Weary with the march of life!

    They, the holy ones and weakly,

    Who the cross of suffering bore,

    Folded their pale hands so meekly,

    Spake with us on earth no more!

    And with them the Being Beauteous,

    Who unto my youth was given,

    More than all things else to love me,

    And is now a saint in heaven.

    With a slow and noiseless footstep

    Comes that messenger divine,

    Takes the vacant chair beside me,

    Lays her gentle hand in mine.

    And she sits and gazes at me

    With those deep and tender eyes,

    Like the stars, so still and saint-like,

    Looking downward from the skies.

    Uttered not, yet comprehended,

    Is the spirit’s voiceless prayer,

    Soft rebukes, in blessings ended,

    Breathing from her lips of air.

    Oh, though oft depressed and lonely,

    All my fears are laid aside,

    If I but remember only

    Such as these have lived and died!