Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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.

 thinkers home

   "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.

 

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

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.

 

Give what you have.  To someone else it may be better than you dare to think.

 

Ah, how good it feels!  The hand of an old friend.

 

If we could read the secret history of our enemies,
we should find in each person's life
sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

 

  

Not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng,
but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.

   
 
The present is the blocks with which we build.
 

 
Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again.
Wisely improve the present, it is thine.
Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear and with a manly heart.
 

The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.

 

Most people would succeed in small things, 
if they were not troubled with great ambitions.

   
That tree is very old, but I never saw prettier blossoms on it than it now bears.
That tree grows new wood each year.  Like that apple tree, I try to grow a little new wood each year.
 

 
If spring came but once in a century instead of once a year,
or burst forth with the sound of an earthquake and not in silence,
what wonder and expectation there would be in all hearts
to behold the miraculous change.
  

Let us, then, be what we are; speak what we think;
and in all things keep ourselves loyal to truth.

   
 

The Rainy Day

The day is cold and dark and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold and dark and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the moldering past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining:
Thy fate is the common fate of all:
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

 

 

The Children's Hour

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there I will keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

 
If you would hit the mark, you must aim a little above it; 
every arrow that flies feels the attraction of earth.
  

The bravest are the tenderest.
The loving are the daring.

 
We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing,
while others judge us by what we have already done.
  

Perseverance is a great element of success.
If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate,
you are sure to wake up somebody.

  

The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.

 
Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.
  
  

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