Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Excelsior: A Name, a State Seal and a Poem

“L. excelsior "higher," comp. of excelsus "high," pp. of excellere (see excel), taken 1778 as motto of New York State, where it was apparently mistaken for an adverb. Popularized 1841 as title of a poem by Longfellow.” - On Line Etymology

The Longfellow poem was inspired when Henry W.L. took a look at the New York State Seal and was inspired to write this cryptic poem. Today, in the depths of winter, this is a very appropriate piece with some local associations. The Lake Minnetonka/Excelsior Historical Society was a partial resource... here is the poem. (1841)


The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,

His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,

In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,

“Try not the Pass!” the old man said;
“Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!”
And loud that clarion voice replied,

“O stay,” the maiden said, “and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast!”
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But steel he answered with a sigh,
“Beware the pine tree’s withered branch!
Beware the awful avalanche!”
This was the peasant’s last Good-night,
A voice replied, far up the height,

At break of day, as heavenward
The pious monks of Saint Bernard
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,
A voice cried through the startled air,

A traveler, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Sill grasping in his hand of ice
The banner with the strange device,

There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell, like a falling star,

Note; The first settlers of Excelsior, Minnesota were from upstate New York. In 1852 George Bertram organized the Excelsior Pioneer Association. In 1853 the Town of Excelsior had its first settlers...


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