Gary Kapanowski: The Reason behind Excelsior

Even since I could remember, I knew of the word Excelsior, mainly due to the characteristic sign-off of Detroit radio personality Mark Scott.  After researching this word more, I related to it even more.  By definition, excelsior is a Latin adjective meaning “higher” or “loftier”.  In English, this is an interjection with a poetic meaning of “ever upward”.

The main origin in popular culture is due to Longfellow’s poem originally printed in the 1841 edition of Ballads and Other Poems, which also included other well-known poems such as The Wreck of the Hesperus.  The poem describes a young man passing through a mountain village. He bears the banner “Excelsior”, translated from Latin as “ever higher”, also loosely but more widely as “onward and upward”.  The traveler ignores all the warnings and climbs higher until inevitably, “lifeless, but beautiful”.  He is found by a faithful hound half-buried in the snow and still holding banner with the word, “Excelsior”.

Other pop culture references include from Star Trek, a class spaceship from the movie series, and from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show TV show from 1960-61 as a poem parody of the meaning and a trade name for wood shavings.

LEAN SIX SIGMA TEACHING POINT:  This poem really states the true meaning of perseverance with a focus on your goal.  This is the type of spirit necessary to complete a Black Book project.  There are many roadblocks to prevent the team from accomplishing the goal.  It is a requirement of the team to continue the long journey “up the mountain peak” and achieve the goal.

When your project is having difficulties, think “Excelsior” for motivation.


Text of poem

The shades of night were falling fast,

As through an Alpine village passed

A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,

A banner with the strange device,


His brow was sad; his eye beneath,

Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,

And like a silver clarion rung

The accents of that unknown tongue,


In happy homes he saw the light

Of household fires gleam warm and bright;

Above, the spectral glaciers shone,

And from his lips escaped a groan,


“Try not the Pass!” the old man said:

“Dark lowers the tempest overhead,

The roaring torrent is deep and wide!”

And loud that clarion voice replied,


“Oh stay,” the maiden said, “and rest

Thy weary head upon this breast!”

A tear stood in his bright blue eye,

But still he answered, with a sigh,


“Beware the pine-tree’s withered branch!

Beware the awful avalanche!”

This was the peasant’s last Good-night,

A voice replied, far up the height,


At break of day, as heavenward

The pious monks of Saint Bernard

Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,

A voice cried through the startled air,


A traveller, by the faithful hound,

Half-buried in the snow was found,

Still grasping in his hand of ice

That banner with the strange device,


There in the twilight cold and gray,

Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,

And from the sky, serene and far,

A voice fell, like a falling star,



Gary Kapanowski – Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt – Excelsior


The following blog is the opinion of Gary Kapanowski and  Contact him directly at  It is the sole intent to broadcast this opinion from Gary Kapanowski and exclusively and not to reflect on any other institutions or organizations associated with Gary Kapanowski or