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

Voices of the Night

The Reaper and the Flowers

  • In his diary, under date of December 6, 1838, Mr. Longfellow writes: “A beautiful holy morning within me. I was softly excited, I knew not why, and wrote with peace in my heart, and not without tears in my eyes, The Reaper and the Flowers, a Psalm of Death. I have had an idea of this kind in my mind for a long time, without finding any expression for it in words. This morning it seemed to crystallize at once, without any effort of my own.” This psalm was printed in the Knickerbocker for January, 1839, with the sub-title A Psalm of Death, and with the familiar stanza from Henry Vaughan, beginning:—
  • Dear beauteous death; the jewel of the just!

  • 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.

    Oh, not in cruelty, not in wrath,

    The Reaper came that day;

    ’T was an angel visited the green earth,

    And took the flowers away.