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Hidden in the ancient Talmud, Hagiga 13b.
Slumbereth this legend old,
By the stately Jewish Rabbis
To the listening people told;
Jacob’s ladder still is standing,
And the angels o’er it go
Up and down from earth to heaven,
Ever passing to and fro;
Messengers from great YHVH Here we have replaced a vocalization of the Tetragrammaton with its romanized circumlocution.
Bringing mortals good or ill,
Just as we from laws unchanging,
Good or evil shall distill.
He of Death, with brow majestic,
Cometh wreathed with asphodel;
He of life, with smile seraphic,
Softly saying, “All is well.”
He of Pain, with purple pinions,
He of Joy, all shining bright;
He of Hope, with wings cerulean;
He of innocence, all white.
And the rustling of their pinions,
With the falling of their feet,
Turneth into notes of music,
Grand and solemn, soft and sweet.
One—and only one—stands ever
On the ladder’s topmost round,
Just outside the gate celestial,
List’ning as to catch some sound;
But it is not angel music
Unto which he bends his ear,
‘Tis the passing prayer of mortals
That he patient waits to hear.
By him messengers are flitting,
But he ever standeth there,
For he is the Great Sandalphon
Who is gathering every prayer.
In his hands they turn to garlands,
From whose flowers a fragrance floats
Through the open gates celestial,
Mingled with the angels’ notes.
For outside the golden portal
Of that city of the skies
All the earthly dross and passion
Of the prayer of mortal dies.
‘Tis the heavenly essence only
That can find an entrance there,
Turned into the scent of flowers
By Sandalphon—Him of Prayer.
The poem “He of Prayer” was published in Henry Abarbanel’s English School and Family Reader (1883), p.14, where it is attributed to the newspaper The Jewish Times, a New York newspaper that circulated from 1869-1877. No further attribution information is available, alas, and likely won’t be forthcoming until the pages of the newspaper are properly digitized and made searchable. If you know the identity of the author, please leave a comment or contact us.
The poem is misattributed through a regrettable typo to a “J.F.” in The Standard Book of Jewish Prayer (ed. Joseph Friedlander and George Alexander Kohut, 1917).
The poem shares a great deal with the poem “Sandalphon” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), first published in 1858 in Birds of Passage, but “He of Prayer” is different enough that we think it is probably only inspired by the latter.
“He of Prayer, a poem concerning the angel Sandalphon by an Unknown Author (ca. 1870s)” is shared by the living contributor(s) with a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication 1.0 Universal license.