James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

October 27

The Two Angels

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

  • This poem commemorates the birth of a child to the poet and the death of the wife of his friend and neighbor, James Russell Lowell, on October 27, 1853.

  • TWO angels, one of Life and one of Death,

    Passed o’er our village as the morning broke;

    The dawn was on their faces, and beneath,

    The sombre houses hearsed with plumes of smoke.

    Their attitude and aspect were the same,

    Alike their features and their robes of white;

    But one was crowned with amaranth, as with flame,

    And one with asphodels, like flakes of light.

    I saw them pause on their celestial way;

    Then said I, with deep fear and doubt oppressed,

    “Beat not so loud, my heart, lest thou betray

    The place where thy beloved are at rest!”

    And he who wore the crown of asphodels,

    Descending, at my door began to knock,

    And my soul sank within me, as in wells

    The waters sink before an earthquake’s shock.

    I recognized the nameless agony,

    The terror and the tremor and the pain,

    That oft before had filled or haunted me,

    And now returned with threefold strength again.

    The door I opened to my heavenly guest,

    And listened, for I thought I heard God’s voice;

    And, knowing whatsoe’er he sent was best,

    Dared neither to lament nor to rejoice.

    Then with a smile, that filled the house with light,

    “My errand is not Death, but Life,” he said;

    And ere I answered, passing out of sight,

    On his celestial embassy he sped.

    ’Twas at thy door, O friend! and not at mine,

    The angel with the amaranthine wreath,

    Pausing, descended, and with voice divine,

    Whispered a word that had a sound like Death.

    Then fell upon the house a sudden gloom,

    A shadow on those features fair and thin;

    And softly, from that hushed and darkened room,

    Two angels issued, where but one went in.

    All is of God! If he but wave his hand,

    The mists collect, the rain falls thick and loud,

    Till, with a smile of light on sea and land,

    Lo! he looks back from the departing cloud.

    Angels of Life and Death alike are his;

    Without his leave they pass no threshold o’er;

    Who, then, would wish or dare, believing this,

    Against his messengers to shut the door?