By Sister Nancy Linenkugel, OSF
As we’re getting into the celebratory mood for the magnificent feast of St. Francis of Assisi coming up in another month on October 4, I’m thinking about the poem that beloved American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about him. Actually, I’m first thinking about a comparison of these two men. Consider this:
|St. Francis of Assisi||Henry Wadsworth Longfellow|
|Birthplace||Assisi, Italy||Portland, Maine, USA|
|Lifespan||44 years||75 years|
|Life Goal||Be the most Christ-like person who lived||Be the perfect gentleman|
|Reputation||One of the Catholic Church’s most beloved saints||One of America’s most recognized and beloved poets|
|Life Ministry||Itinerant preacher||Educated professor at Bowdoin and Harvard|
|Nature||Nature is our gift of brothers and sisters||Nature reflects human feelings|
|Conflicts Seen||City-state wars||War of 1812; Civil War|
|Peace||Sought peace in hearts||Sought peace in the country|
|Works||Canticle of the Creatures,
The Praises of God
|Paul Revere’s Ride, Evangeline, Song of Hiawatha, The Village Blacksmith|
Longfellow died 700 years after St. Francis was born but certainly captured well St. Francis’ gift and inspiration in preaching to all God’s creatures. A meditative read of Longfellow’s poem about St. Francis proves that, now 144 years later.
The Sermon of St. Francis (Composed in 1875)
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Up soared the lark into the air,
A shaft of song, a wingéd 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
Come 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.
“Oh, 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.