Footsteps of Angels

Footsteps of Angels

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When the hours of Day are numbered,
And the voices of the Night
Wake the better soul, that slumbered,
To a holy, calm delight;
Ere the evening lamps are lighted,
And, like phantoms grim and tall,
Shadows from the fitful firelight
Dance upon the parlor wall;
Then the forms of the departed
Enter at the open door;
The beloved, the true-hearted,
Come to visit me once more;
He, the young and strong, who cherished
Noble longings for the strife,
By the roadside fell and perished,
Weary with the march of life!
They, the holy ones and weakly,
Who the cross of suffering bore,
Folded their pale hands so meekly,
Spake with us on earth no more!
And with them the Being Beauteous,
Who unto my youth was given,
More than all things else to love me,
And is now a saint in heaven.
With a slow and noiseless footstep
Comes that messenger divine,
Takes the vacant chair beside me,
Lays her gentle hand in mine.
And she sits and gazes at me
With those deep and tender eyes,
Like the stars, so still and saint-like,
Looking downward from the skies.
Uttered not, yet comprehended,
Is the spirit’s voiceless prayer,
Soft rebukes, in blessings ended,
Breathing from her lips of air.
Oh, though oft depressed and lonely,
All my fears are laid aside,
If I but remember only
Such as these have lived and died!

Summary of Footsteps of Angels

  • Popularity of “Footsteps of Angels”: Written by H. W. Longfellow, this poem “Footsteps of Angels” was published in 1838. Later, it was adapted for music in 1860 by John Blockley, who popularized it across the globe. The poem presents the reveries of the poet about the silent visitor from heaven who comes to him and allays his fears but with an emphasis on remembering her. The popularity of the poem lies in the tinge of faith and divinity the poet has given to the verses.
  • “Footsteps of Angels” As a Representative of Memories and Faith: The poem presents a first-person speaker who appears in the last line of the third stanza to show that when the calm and silent night comes after the time of the day passes, then phantoms like shapes appear on the wall of his room. Despite the nighttime and consequential hazy thoughts, he remembers the young faces having no penchant for fights and brawls. He recalls their deaths and compares them with the living as having meek personas and pale skin. Calling them holy, he eulogizes their arrival as well as their holiness to state that they sit by him and allay all his fears only with the imperceptible acceptance of the condition that he would recall them. The mention of the prayer, soft rebuke, and blessings show the poet’s strong belief in his faith and his love for his departed relations.
  • Major Themes in “Footsteps of Angels”: Memories, faith, and the love of the dead relations are three major thematic strands of the poem. Although the first two stanzas show that the poet is going to talk about the beauty of the time, when he mentions phantoms and spirits that have left him, it immediately occurs that he recalls his dead relations to show that they have gone into heaven and are visiting him to remind him that they love him. Their prayers and their soft rebukes remind him that he must follow the true path and remove his fears. The very title of the poem suggests that the poet has given their deaths, their appearance, and their personas a religious touch to show that he does not feel depressed and lonely as they visit him quite often and comfort him.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Footsteps of Angels

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used various literary devices to enhance the intended impact of his poem. Some of the major literary devices he has used are as follows.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /o/ in “Shadows from the fitful firelight” and the sound of /a/ in “Takes the vacant chair beside me.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick successions, such as the sound of /f/ in “fitful firelight”, /w/ in “weary with”, /b/ in “Being Beauteous”, and /s/ in “starts, so still.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /d/ in “When the hours of Day are numbered” and the sound of /f/ in “Shadows from the fitful firelight.”
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;

Shadows from the fitful firelight
Dance upon the parlor wall;

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has used imagery in this poem, such as “And the voices of the Night”, “Ere the evening lamps are lighted,
    ” and “Then the forms of the departed.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects that are different in nature. The Longfellow has used the metaphors of “the Being Beauteous”, “a saint” and “messenger divine” for some loving person who has died. This person could be his wife.
  3. Simile: It means to directly compare two things to understand the one compared with the other. The poet has compared the eyes of the person appearing at night with stars in this verse “With those deep and tender eyes / Like stars.”
  4. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols such as day and night to show the passing of time.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Footsteps of Angels

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction and Tone: It means the use of language and voice of the text. Although it is poetic diction, the poet has used some archaic words such as ere and spake. However, the tone is somber, tragic, and reassuring by the end.
  2. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has used end rhyme in this poem, such as numbered/slumbered and night and delight in the first stanza. It continues with the other stanzas, too.
  3. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here each stanza is quatrain.
  4. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows an ABAB rhyme scheme, and this pattern continues until the end.
  5. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are 10 stanzas in this poem, with each comprising four verses.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful for lovers to quote to describe the arrival of their beloveds or narrate such stories.

And she sits and gazes at me
With those deep and tender eyes,
Like the stars, so still and saint-like,
Looking downward from the skies.