A Psalm of Life

  

A Psalm of Life
WHAT THE HEART OF THE YOUNG
MAN SAID TO THE PSALMIST

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!--
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,--act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was one of America's most positive and life-loving poets ever.  While people in academic fields tend to scorn his work as "simplistic" or even "childish" (in our 19th-century American lit class, we skipped right over him), the fact remains that he was the most popular American poet of the 19th century.  Longfellow had a broad education having spent several years living in Europe, partly in preparation for his post as professor at Harvard, where he eventually became head of the Modern Languages department.  He suffered through the deaths of two wives--his first wife died in Holland in 1835; his second wife was burned to death in a domestic accident in 1861.  Tragedy, though, did not mean the end of creativity for Longfellow, as he continued to work through his mourning.
     "A Psalm of Life" was published in 1839, and its advice is ageless and encouraging.  "Life is real!" is a call that few of us take to heart and act on--but "to act, that each to-morrow find us farther than to-day" is precisely the way that most students of life recommend to get the most out of this life we've been given.  Longfellow encourages us to act, but also to have patience enough to let our actions take effect--and hopefully, that effect will be to help another person to gain hope and courage in his or her own walk through life.  Let us be up and doing, so that we can encourage others to get the most out of their lives, too.

  
    


 
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