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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII. 1876–79.


The Sermon of St. Francis

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

UP soared the lark into the air,

A shaft of song, a winged prayer,

As if a soul, released from pain,

Were flying back to heaven again.

St. Francis heard; it was to him

An emblem of the Seraphim;

The upward motion of the fire,

The light, the heat, the heart’s desire.

Around Assisi’s convent gate

The birds, God’s poor who cannot wait,

From moor and mere and darksome wood

Came flocking for their dole of food.

“O brother birds,” St. Francis said,

“Ye come to me and ask for bread,

But not with bread alone to-day

Shall ye be fed and sent away.

“Ye shall be fed, ye happy birds,

With manna of celestial words;

Not mine, though mine they seem to be,

Not mine, though they be spoken through me.

“O, doubly are ye bound to praise

The great Creator in your lays;

He giveth you your plumes of down,

Your crimson hoods, your cloaks of brown.

“He giveth you your wings to fly

And breathe a purer air on high,

And careth for you everywhere,

Who for yourselves so little care!”

With flutter of swift wings and songs

Together rose the feathered throngs,

And singing scattered far apart;

Deep peace was in St. Francis’ heart.

He knew not if the brotherhood

His homily had understood;

He only knew that to one ear

The meaning of his words was clear.