Sandalphon, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1858)

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Sandalphon

Have you read in the Talmud of old,
In the Legends the Rabbins have told
    Of the limitless realms of the air,–
Have you read it,–the marvellous story
Of Sandalphon, the Angel of Glory,
    Sandalphon, the Angel of Prayer?

How, erect, at the outermost gates
Of the City Celestial he waits,
    With his feet on the ladder of light,
That, crowded with angels unnumbered,
By Jacob was seen, as he slumbered
    Alone in the desert at night?

The Angels of Wind and of Fire
Chant only one hymn, and expire
    With the song’s irresistible stress;
Expire in their rapture and wonder,
As harp-strings are broken asunder
    By music they throb to express.

But serene in the rapturous throng,
Unmoved by the rush of the song,
    With eyes unimpassioned and slow,
Among the dead angels, the deathless
Sandalphon stands listening breathless
    To sounds that ascend from below;–

From the spirits on earth that adore,
From the souls that entreat and implore
    In the fervor and passion of prayer;
From the hearts that are broken with losses,
And weary with dragging the crosses
    Too heavy for mortals to bear.

And he gathers the prayers as he stands,
And they change into flowers in his hands,
    Into garlands of purple and red;
And beneath the great arch of the portal,
Through the streets of the City Immortal
    Is wafted the fragrance they shed.

It is but a legend, I know,–
A fable, a phantom, a show,
    Of the ancient Rabbinical lore;
Yet the old mediaeval tradition,
The beautiful, strange superstition,
    But haunts me and holds me the more.

When I look from my window at night,
And the welkin above is all white,
    All throbbing and panting with stars,
Among them majestic is standing
Sandalphon the angel, expanding
    His pinions in nebulous bars.

And the legend, I feel, is a part
Of the hunger and thirst of the heart,
    The frenzy and fire of the brain,
That grasps at the fruitage forbidden,
The golden pomegranates of Eden,
    To quiet its fever and pain.

“Sandalphon” was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) and completed January 18, 1858, and first published in Birds of Passage (1858), section “Flight the First,” page 62. As an introduction, Longfellow writes:

November 2, 1857. In the evening, Scherb[1]Emmanuel Vitalis Scherb, a German-speaking poet and critic from Basel, Switzerland, befriended by Longfellow. read to me some curious Talmudic legends from Corrodi’s Chiliasmus,[2]This would be Kritische Geschichte des Chiliasmus (1781, p. 336) by Heinrich Corrodi (1752-1793), professor of ethics at the Gymnasium in Zurich. (Many thanks to Mississippi Fred Macdowell for helping me to locate the exact page in the Chiliasmus with the source.) Max Cavitch in “Emma Lazarus and the Golem of Liberty” in The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange, (ed. Meredith L. McGill, 2008), provides some fascinating context concerning Longfellow and his understanding of Jewish myth, history, and peoplehood. — of the great angel Sandalphon…. January 18, 1858. Finished the poem Sandalphon.


תלמוד בבלי חגיגה יג, ב
From Talmud Bavli, Tractate Hagigah 13b:[3]amended translation and notes by Rabbi Dr. Harry Mordechai Freedman (1901-1982) (from the Soncino Talmud)

וארא החיות והנה אופן אחד בארץ אצל החיות (יחזקאל א:טו)
Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel on the earth besides the living creatures.[4]Ezekiel 1:15

אמר ר’ אלעזר מלאך אחד שהוא עומד בארץ וראשו מגיע אצל החיות במתניתא תנא סנדלפון שמו הגבוה מחברו מהלך חמש מאות שנה ועומד אחורי המרכבה וקושר כתרים לקונו.‏
Rebbi Eleazar said: [It means] a certain angel, who stands on the earth and his head reaches unto the living creatures. In a Baraitha it is taught: His name is Sandalphon;[5]Perhaps from Grk. ** == cobrother. Sandalphon is described as brother of Metatron; v. J.E. vol. XI, pp. 39-40. he is higher than his fellows by a [distance of] five hundred years’ journey, and he stands behind the Chariot and wreathes crowns[6]I.e., offers up the prayers of the righteous. for his Maker.

איני והכתיבברוך כבוד ה’ ממקומו(יחזקאל ג:יב) מכלל דמקומו ליכא דידע ליה דאמר שם אתגא ואזל ויתיב ברישיה
But is it so? Behold it is written: “Blessed be the resplendence of haShem from His place,”[7]Ezekiel 3:12. accordingly, no one knows His place![8]I.e., the vagueness of the expression ‘from His place’ indicates that God’s place is unknown even to His angels. — [Sandalphon] pronounces a divine name over the crown, and it goes and rests on His head.[9]More on Sandalphon can be learned from Arthur Green’s Keter: The Crown of God in Early Jewish Mysticism (1997).

Source

Notes   [ + ]

  1. Emmanuel Vitalis Scherb, a German-speaking poet and critic from Basel, Switzerland, befriended by Longfellow.
  2. This would be Kritische Geschichte des Chiliasmus (1781, p. 336) by Heinrich Corrodi (1752-1793), professor of ethics at the Gymnasium in Zurich. (Many thanks to Mississippi Fred Macdowell for helping me to locate the exact page in the Chiliasmus with the source.) Max Cavitch in “Emma Lazarus and the Golem of Liberty” in The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange, (ed. Meredith L. McGill, 2008), provides some fascinating context concerning Longfellow and his understanding of Jewish myth, history, and peoplehood.
  3. amended translation and notes by Rabbi Dr. Harry Mordechai Freedman (1901-1982) (from the Soncino Talmud)
  4. Ezekiel 1:15
  5. Perhaps from Grk. ** == cobrother. Sandalphon is described as brother of Metatron; v. J.E. vol. XI, pp. 39-40.
  6. I.e., offers up the prayers of the righteous.
  7. Ezekiel 3:12.
  8. I.e., the vagueness of the expression ‘from His place’ indicates that God’s place is unknown even to His angels.
  9. More on Sandalphon can be learned from Arthur Green’s Keter: The Crown of God in Early Jewish Mysticism (1997).

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