Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  From the Swedish and Danish. The Children of the Lord’s Supper

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


From the Swedish and Danish. The Children of the Lord’s Supper

By Esaias Tegnér

PENTECOST, day of rejoicing, had come.

The church of the village

Gleaming stood in the morning’s sheen.

On the spire of the belfry,

Decked with a brazen cock, the friendly flames of the Spring-sun

Glanced like the tongues of fire, beheld by Apostles aforetime.

Clear was the heaven and blue, and May, with her cap crowned with roses,

Stood in her holiday dress in the fields, and the wind and the brooklet

Murmured gladness and peace, God’s-peace! with lips rosy-tinted

Whispered the race of the flowers, and merry on balancing branches

Birds were singing their carol, a jubilant hymn to the Highest.

Swept and clean was the churchyard. Adorned like a leaf-woven arbor

Stood its old-fashioned gate; and within upon each cross of iron

Hung was a fragrant garland, new twined by the hands of affection.

Even the dial, that stood on a mound among the departed,

(There full a hundred years had it stood,) was embellished with blossoms.

Like to the patriarch hoary, the sage of his kith and the hamlet,

Who on his birthday is crowned by children and children’s children,

So stood the ancient prophet, and mute with his pencil of iron

Marked on the tablet of stone, and measured the time and its changes,

While all around at his feet, an eternity slumbered in quiet.

Also the church within was adorned, for this was the season

When the young, their parents’ hope, and the loved-ones of heaven,

Should at the foot of the altar renew the vows of their baptism.

Therefore each nook and corner was swept and cleaned, and the dust was

Blown from the walls and ceiling, and from the oil-painted benches.

There stood the church like a garden; the Feast of the Leafy Pavilions

Saw we in living presentment. From noble arms on the church wall

Grew forth a cluster of leaves, and the preacher’s pulpit of oak-wood

Budded once more anew, as aforetime the rod before Aaron.

Wreathed thereon was the Bible with leaves, and the dove, washed with silver,

Under its canopy fastened, had on it a necklace of wind-flowers.

But in front of the choir, round the altar-piece painted by Hörberg,

Crept a garland gigantic; and bright-curling tresses of angels

Peeped, like the sun from a cloud, from out of the shadowy leaf-work.

Likewise the lustre of brass, new-polished, blinked from the ceiling,

And for lights there were lilies of Pentecost set in the sockets.

Loud rang the bells already; the thronging crowd was assembled

Far from valleys and hills, to list to the holy preaching.

Hark! then roll forth at once the mighty tones of the organ,

Hover like voices from God, aloft like invisible spirits.

Like as Elias in heaven, when he cast from off him his mantle,

So cast off the soul its garments of earth; and with one voice

Chimed in the congregation, and sang an anthem immortal

Of the sublime Wallín, of David’s harp in the North-land

Tuned to the choral of Luther; the song on its mighty pinions

Took every living soul, and lifted it gently to heaven,

And each face did shine like the Holy One’s face upon Tabor.

Lo! there entered then into the church the Reverend Teacher.

Father he hight and he was in the parish; a Christianly plainness

Clothed from his head to his feet the old man of seventy winters.

Friendly was he to behold, and glad as the heralding angel

Walked he among the crowds, but still a contemplative grandeur

Lay on his forehead as clear as on moss-covered gravestone a sunbeam.

As in his inspiration (an evening twilight that faintly

Gleams in the human soul, even now, from the day of creation)

Th’ Artist, the friend of heaven, imagines Saint John when in Patmos,

Gray, with his eyes uplifted to heaven, so seemed then the old man;

Such was the glance of his eye, and such were his tresses of silver.

All the congregation arose in the pews that were numbered.

But with a cordial look, to the right and the left hand, the old man

Nodding all hail and peace, disappeared in the innermost chancel.

Simply and solemnly now proceeded the Christian service,

Singing and prayer, and at last an ardent discourse from the old man.

Many a moving word and warning, that out of the heart came,

Fell like the dew of the morning, like manna on those in the desert.

Then, when all was finished, the Teacher reëntered the chancel,

Followed therein by the young. The boys on the right had their places,

Delicate figures, with close-curling hair and cheeks rosy-blooming.

But on the left of these there stood the tremulous lilies,

Tinged with the blushing light of the dawn, the diffident maidens,—

Folding their hands in prayer, and their eyes cast down on the pavement.

Now came, with question and answer, the catechism. In the beginning

Answered the children with troubled and faltering voice, but the old man’s

Glances of kindness encouraged them soon, and the doctrines eternal

Flowed, like the waters of fountains, so clear from lips unpolluted.

Each time the answer was closed, and as oft as they named the Redeemer,

Lowly louted the boys, and lowly the maidens all courtesied.

Friendly the Teacher stood, like an angel of light there among them,

And to the children explained the holy, the highest, in few words,

Thorough, yet simple and clear, for sublimity always is simple,

Both in sermon and song, a child can seize on its meaning.

E’en as the green-growing bud unfolds when Springtide approaches,

Leaf by leaf puts forth, and, warmed by the radiant sunshine,

Blushes with purple and gold, till at last the perfected blossom

Opens its odorous chalice, and rocks with its crown in the breezes,

So was unfolded here the Christian lore of salvation,

Line by line from the soul of childhood. The fathers and mothers

Stood behind them in tears, and were glad at the well-worded answer.

Now went the old man up to the altar;—and straightway transfigured

(So did it seem unto me) was then the affectionate Teacher.

Like the Lord’s Prophet sublime, and awful as Death and as Judgment

Stood he, the God-commissioned, the soul-searcher, earthward descending.

Glances, sharp as a sword, into hearts that to him were transparent

Shot he; his voice was deep, was low like the thunder afar off.

So on a sudden transfigured he stood there, he spake and he questioned.

“This is the faith of the Fathers, the faith the Apostles delivered,

This is moreover the faith whereunto I baptized you, while still ye

Lay on your mother’s breasts, and nearer the portals of heaven.

Slumbering received you then the Holy Church in its bosom;

Wakened from sleep are ye now, and the light in its radiant splendor

Downward rains from the heaven;—to-day on the threshold of childhood

Kindly she frees you again, to examine and make your election,

For she knows naught of compulsion, and only conviction desireth.

This is the hour of your trial, the turning-point of existence,

Seed for the coming days; without revocation departeth

Now from your lips the confession. Bethink ye, before ye make answer!

Think not, oh think not with guile to deceive the questioning Teacher.

Sharp is his eye to-day, and a curse ever rests upon falsehood.

Enter not with a lie on Life’s journey; the multitude hears you,

Brothers and sisters and parents, what dear upon earth is and holy

Standeth before your sight as a witness; the Judge everlasting

Looks from the sun down upon you, and angels in waiting beside him

Grave your confession in letters of fire upon tablets eternal.

Thus, then,—believe ye in God, in the Father who this world created?

Him who redeemed it, the Son, and the Spirit where both are united?

Will ye promise me here, (a holy promise!) to cherish

God more than all things earthly, and every man as a brother?

Will ye promise me here, to confirm your faith by your living,

Th’ heavenly faith of affection! to hope, to forgive, and to suffer,

Be what it may your condition, and walk before God in uprightness?

Will ye promise me this before God and man?”—With a clear voice

Answered the young men Yes! and Yes! with lips softly-breathing

Answered the maidens eke. Then dissolved from the brow of the Teacher

Clouds with the lightnings therein, and he spake in accents more gentle,

Soft as the evening’s breath, as harps by Babylon’s rivers.

“Hail, then, hail to you all! To the heirdom of heaven be ye welcome!

Children no more from this day, but by covenant brothers and sisters!

Yet,—for what reason not children? Of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Here upon earth an assemblage of children, in heaven one Father,

Ruling them all as his household,—forgiving in turn and chastising,

That is of human life a picture, as Scripture has taught us.

Blest are the pure before God! Upon purity and upon virtue

Resteth the Christian Faith; she herself from on high is descended.

Strong as a man and pure as a child, is the sum of the doctrine,

Which the Divine One taught, and suffered and died on the cross for.

Oh, as ye wander this day from childhood’s sacred asylum

Downward, and ever downward, and deeper in Age’s chill valley,

Oh, how soon will ye come,—too soon!—and long to turn backward

Up to its hill-tops again, to the sun-illumined, where Judgment

Stood like a father before you, and Pardon, clad like a mother,

Gave you her hand to kiss, and the loving heart was forgiven,

Life was a play and your hands grasped after the roses of heaven!

Seventy years have I lived already; the Father eternal

Gave me gladness and care; but the loveliest hours of existence,

When I have steadfastly gazed in their eyes, I have instantly known them,

Known them all again;—they were my childhood’s acquaintance.

Therefore take from henceforth, as guides in the paths of existence,

Prayer, with her eyes raised to heaven, and Innocence, bride of man’s childhood.

Innocence, child beloved, is a guest from the world of the blessed,

Beautiful, and in her hand a lily; on life’s roaring billows

Swings she in safety, she heedeth them not, in the ship she is sleeping.

Calmly she gazes around in the turmoil of men; in the desert

Angels descend and minister unto her; she herself knoweth

Naught of her glorious attendance; but follows faithful and humble,

Follows so long as she may her friend; oh do not reject her,

For she cometh from God and she holdeth the keys of the heavens.

Prayer is Innocence’ friend; and willingly flieth incessant

’Twixt the earth and the sky, the carrier-pigeon of heaven.

Son of Eternity, fettered in Time, and an exile, the Spirit

Tugs at his chains evermore, and struggles like flame ever upward.

Still he recalls with emotion his Father’s manifold mansions,

Thinks of the land of his fathers, where blossomed more freshly the flowerets,

Shone a more beautiful sun, and he played with the wingèd angels.

Then grows the earth too narrow, too close; and homesick for heaven

Longs the wanderer again; and the Spirit’s longings are worship;

Worship is called his most beautiful hour, and its tongue is entreaty.

Ah! when the infinite burden of life descendeth upon us,

Crushes to earth our hope, and, under the earth, in the graveyard,

Then it is good to pray unto God; for his sorrowing children

Turns He ne’er from his door, but He heals and helps and consoles them.

Yet is it better to pray when all things are prosperous with us,

Pray in fortunate days, for life’s most beautiful Fortune

Kneels before the Eternal’s throne; and with hands interfolded,

Praises thankful and moved the only giver of blessings.

Or do ye know, ye children, one blessing that comes not from Heaven?

What has mankind forsooth, the poor! that it has not received?

Therefore, fall in the dust and pray! The seraphs adoring

Cover with pinions six their face in the glory of Him who

Hung his masonry pendent on naught, when the world He created.

Earth declareth his might, and the firmament utters his glory.

Races blossom and die, and stars fall downward from heaven,

Downward like withered leaves; at the last stroke of midnight, millenniums

Lay themselves down at his feet, and He sees them, but counts them as nothing.

Who shall stand in his presence? The wrath of the Judge is terrific,

Casting the insolent down at a glance. When He speaks in his anger

Hillocks skip like the kid, and mountains leap like the roebuck.

Yet,—why are ye afraid, ye children? This awful avenger,

Ah! is a merciful God! God’s voice was not in the earthquake,

Not in the fire, nor the storm, but it was in the whispering breezes.

Love is the root of creation; God’s essence; worlds without number

Lie in his bosom like children; He made them for this purpose only.

Only to love and to be loved again, He breathed forth his spirit

Into the slumbering dust, and upright standing, it laid its

Hand on its heart, and felt it was warm with a flame out of heaven.

Quench, oh quench not that flame! It is the breath of your being.

Love is life, but hatred is death. Not father nor mother

Loved you, as God has loved you; for ’t was that you may be happy

Gave He his only Son. When He bowed down his head in the death-hour

Solemnized Love its triumph; the sacrifice then was completed.

Lo! then was rent on a sudden the veil of the temple, dividing

Earth and heaven apart, and the dead from their sepulchres rising

Whispered with pallid lips and low in the ears of each other

Th’ answer, but dreamed of before, to creation’s enigma,—Atonement!

Depths of Love are Atonement’s depths, for Love is Atonement.

Therefore, child of mortality, love thou the merciful Father;

Wish what the Holy One wishes, and not from fear, but affection;

Fear is the virtue of slaves; but the heart that loveth is willing;

Perfect was before God, and perfect is Love, and Love only.

Lovest thou God as thou oughtest, then lovest thou likewise thy brethren;

One is the sun in heaven, and one, only one, is Love also.

Bears not each human figure the godlike stamp on his forehead?

Readest thou not in his face thine origin? Is he not sailing

Lost like thyself on an ocean unknown, and is he not guided

By the same stars that guide thee? Why shouldst thou hate then thy brother?

Hateth he thee, forgive! For’t is sweet to stammer one letter

Of the Eternal’s language;—on earth it is callèd Forgiveness!

Knowest thou Him, who forgave, with the crown of thorns on his temples?

Earnestly prayed for his foes, for his murderers? Say, dost thou know Him?

Ah! thou confessest his name, so follow likewise his example,

Think of thy brother no ill, but throw a veil over his failings,

Guide the erring aright; for the good, the heavenly shepherd

Took the lost lamb in his arms, and bore it back to its mother.

This is the fruit of Love, and it is by its fruits that we know it.

Love is the creature’s welfare, with God; but Love among mortals

Is but an endless sigh! He longs, and endures, and stands waiting,

Suffers and yet rejoices, and smiles with tears on his eyelids.

Hope,—so is called upon earth his recompense,—Hope, the befriending,

Does what she can, for she points evermore up to heaven, and faithful

Plunges her anchor’s peak in the depths of the grave, and beneath it

Paints a more beautiful world, a dim, but a sweet play of shadows!

Races, better than we, have leaned on her wavering promise,

Having naught else but Hope. Then praise we our Father in heaven,

Him, who has given us more; for to us has Hope been transfigured,

Groping no longer in night; she is Faith, she is living assurance.

Faith is enlightened Hope; she is light, is the eye of affection,

Dreams of the longing interprets, and carves their visions in marble.

Faith is the sun of life; and her countenance shines like the Hebrew’s,

For she has looked upon God; the heaven on its stable foundation

Draws she with chains down to earth, and the New Jerusalem sinketh

Splendid with portals twelve in golden vapors descending.

There enraptured she wanders, and looks at the figures majestic,

Fears not the wingèd crowd, in the midst of them all is her homestead.

Therefore love and believe; for works will follow spontaneous

Even as day does the sun; the Right from the Good is an offspring,

Love in a bodily shape; and Christian works are no more than

Animate Love and Faith, as flowers are the animate Springtide.

Works do follow us all unto God; there stand and bear witness

Not what they seemed,—but what they were only. Blessed is he who

Hears their confession secure; they are mute upon earth until death’s hand

Opens the mouth of the silent. Ye children, does Death e’er alarm you?

Death is the brother of Love, twin-brother is he, and is only

More austere to behold. With a kiss upon lips that are fading

Takes he the soul and departs, and, rocked in the arms of affection,

Places the ransomed child, new born, ’fore the face of its father.

Sounds of his coming already I hear,—see dimly his pinions,

Swart as the night, but with stars strewn upon them! I fear not before him.

Death is only release, and in mercy is mute. On his bosom

Freer breathes, in its coolness, my breast; and face to face standing

Look I on God as He is, a sun unpolluted by vapors;

Look on the light of the ages I loved, the spirits majestic,

Nobler, better than I; they stand by the throne all transfigured,

Vested in white, and with harps of gold, and are singing an anthem,

Writ in the climate of heaven, in the language spoken by angels.

You, in like manner, ye children beloved, He one day shall gather,

Never forgets He the weary;—then welcome, ye loved ones hereafter!

Meanwhile forget not the keeping of vows, forget not the promise,

Wander from holiness onward to holiness; earth shall ye heed not;

Earth is but dust and heaven is light; I have pledged you to heaven.

God of the universe, hear me! thou fountain of Love everlasting,

Hark to the voice of thy servant! I send up my prayer to thy heaven!

Let me hereafter not miss at thy throne one spirit of all these,

Whom thou hast given me here! I have loved them all like a father.

May they bear witness for me, that I taught them the way of salvation,

Faithful, so far as I knew, of thy word; again may they know me,

Fall on their Teacher’s breast, and before thy face may I place them,

Pure as they now are, but only more tried, and exclaiming with gladness,

Father, lo! I am here, and the children, whom thou hast given me!”

Weeping he spake in these words; and now at the beck of the old man

Knee against knee they knitted a wreath round the altar’s enclosure.

Kneeling he read then the prayers of the consecration, and softly

With him the children read; at the close, with tremulous accents,

Asked he the peace of Heaven, a benediction upon them.

Now should have ended his task for the day; the following Sunday

Was for the young appointed to eat of the Lord’s holy Supper.

Sudden, as struck from the clouds, stood the Teacher silent and laid his

Hand on his forehead, and cast his looks upward; while thoughts high and holy

Flew through the midst of his soul, and his eyes glanced with wonderful brightness.

“On the next Sunday, who knows! perhaps I shall rest in the graveyard!

Some one perhaps of yourselves, a lily broken untimely,

Bow down his head to the earth; why delay I? the hour is accomplished.

Warm is the heart;—I will! for to-day grows the harvest of heaven.

What I began accomplish I now; what failing therein is

I, the old man, will answer to God and the reverend father.

Say to me only, ye children, ye denizens new-come in heaven,

Are ye ready this day to eat of the bread of Atonement?

What it denoteth, that know ye full well, I have told it you often.

Of the new covenant symbol it is, of Atonement a token,

Stablished between earth and heaven. Man by his sins and transgressions

Far has wandered from God, from his essence. ’T was in the beginning

Fast by the Tree of Knowledge he fell, and it hangs its crown o’er the

Fall to this day; in the Thought is the Fall; in the Heart the Atonement.

Infinite is the fall,—the Atonement infinite likewise.

See! behind me, as far as the old man remembers, and forward,

Far as Hope in her flight can reach with her wearied pinions,

Sin and Atonement incessant to through the lifetime of mortals,

Sin is brought forth full-grown; but Atonement sleeps in our bosoms

Still as the cradled babe; and dreams of heaven and of angels,

Cannot awake to sensation; is like the tones in the harp’s strings,

Spirits imprisoned, that wait evermore the deliverer’s finger.

Therefore, ye children beloved, descended the Prince of Atonement,

Woke the slumberer from sleep, and she stands now with eyes all resplendent,

Bright as the vault of the sky, and battles with Sin and o’ercomes her.

Downward to earth He came and, transfigured, thence reascended,

Not from the heart in like wise, for there He still lives in the Spirit,

Loves and atones evermore. So long as Time is, is Atonement.

Therefore with reverence take this day her visible token.

Tokens are dead if the things live not. The light everlasting

Unto the blind is not, but is born of the eye that has vision.

Neither in bread nor in wine, but in the heart that is hallowed

Lieth forgiveness enshrined; the intention alone of amendment

Fruits of the earth ennobles to heavenly things, and removes all

Sin and the guerdon of sin. Only Love with his arms wide extended,

Penitence weeping and praying; the Will that is tried, and whose gold flows

Purified forth from the flames; in a word, mankind by Atonement

Breaketh Atonement’s bread, and drinketh Atonement’s wine-cup.

But he who cometh up hither, unworthy. with hate in his bosom,

Scoffing at men and at God, is guilty of Christ’s blessed body,

And the Redeemer’s blood! To himself he eateth and drinketh

Death and doom! And from this, preserve us, thou heavenly Father!

Are ye ready, ye children, to eat of the bread of Atonement?”

Thus with emotion he asked, and together answered the children,

“Yes!” with deep sobs interrupted. Then read he the due supplications,

Read the Form of Communion, and in chimed the organ and anthem:

’O Holy Lamb of God, who takest away our transgressions,

Hear us! give us thy peace! have mercy, have mercy upon us!”

Th’ old man, with trembling hand, and heavenly pearls on his eyelids,

Filled now the chalice and paten, and dealt round the mystical symbols.

Oh, then seemed it to me as if God, with the broad eye of midday,

Clearer looked in at the windows, and all the trees in the churchyard

Bowed down their summits of green, and the grass on the graves ’gan to shiver.

But in the children (I noted it well; I knew it) there ran a

Tremor of holy rapture along through their ice-cold members.

Decked like an altar before them, there stood the green earth, and above it

Heaven opened itself, as of old before Stephen; they saw there

Radiant in glory the Father, and on his right hand the Redeemer.

Under them hear they the clang of harp-strings, and angels from gold clouds

Beckon to them like brothers, and fan with their pinions of purple.

Closed was the Teacher’s task, and with heaven in their hearts and their faces,

Up rose the children all, and each bowed him, weeping full sorely,

Downward to kiss that reverend hand, but all of them pressed he

Moved to his bosom, and laid, with a prayer, his hands full of blessings,

Now on the holy breast, and now on the innocent tresses.