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16 June, 2014

A Psalm of Life poem by H.W. Longfellow





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.



Summary of A Psalm of Life by H.W. Longfellow


       A Psalm of Life, a lyric of religious emotion was published in October 1838.  This poem is taken from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's first volume of poems.  A 'Psalm' is a sacred song, an invocation to mankind to follow the path of righteousness.  A Psalm of Life is a blow to the pessimistic attitude of taking life lightly.  The poet encourages his readers not to waste life, that life is short and is going to end soon.  The poem highlights the views of the poet about how to live life and that there is only one life and therefore, we should make a good use of it.




      The poem consists of nine stanzas, each containing four lines.  The poet begins the poem by asking us not to tell him in sorrowful verses that life is an empty, meaningless dream.  According to Longfellow, a person who spends his sleeping is already dead.  Such a worthless life misguides other human beings.  Finally, irresponsibility does not reflect the true human nature.




     The second stanza begins with two phrases, "Life is real!  Life is earnest!".  The poet uses an encouraging tone to say that life is real and serious.  Life should not be treated lightly.  Moreover, the poet says that death is not the ultimate goal; life does not end with death:  "Dust thou art, to dust returnest" is not applicable to the soul, this quotation is applicable only to the body.

       The third stanza of A Psalm of Life is about the way of living.  The poet tells us that our way of leaving should be only based on enjoyment or mourning.  The aim of life its to tact wisely each day so that we can make a better life.




       Stanza four is about the work assigned to us and about the time which is flying, "Art is long, and Time is fleeting" means that the work given to us too long and time-consuming.  The poet encourages that under such situations, our hearts still remain stout and brave  and are beating funeral marches to the grave, like the drums covered with cloth. The message that the poet wants to convey through this stanza is that one should lose courage under any circumstances.

     In the fifth stanza, the poet compares the world to a battlefield as well as a temporary camp for troops.  The humans are compared with troops.  He asks all the people to live and fight their battles within the given period of time.  The poet asks us not to be like the dumb cattle which is driven by others, because of its lack of direction and determination.  




       The poet asks us to trust on the future even if it seems pleasant in the sixth stanza of A Psalm of Life.  The past incidents must be forgotten away.  The aim of life should be to act courageously at present and not to lose faith in God.

       Lives of great men remind us that we can make our lives noble and elevated that is we can reach great heights.  Finally, when we die, we can leave behind us our footprints [noble deeds] for others to follow our path.




      In the final stanza of A Psalm of Life, the poet asks us to begin at once with courage without thinking about the consequences of the actions.  He asks us to achieve our aim and learn to work hard and wait patiently for rewards.



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About the Poet:
H.W. Longfellow (February 27, 1807 - March 24, 1882) was an American poet and educator.  He taught at Bow din College   and Harvard University.  After retiring from Harvard University, he devoted himself completely to writing.  His best known poems are Songs of oft-liawathe, Evangeline  Hesperus, Excelsior and A Psalm of Life.
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