Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

(27 February 1807 – 24 March 1882 / Portland, Maine)

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A Psalm of Life


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.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Edited: Monday, May 27, 2013

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Read poems about / on: funeral, hero, brother, trust, future, fate, sorrow, today, dream, life, heart, time, world, god

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Comments about this poem (A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow )

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  • * Sunprincess * (6/17/2014 9:04:00 PM)

    ........this poem says we should be working everyday to help our self.....and doing something to help others....cause we have plenty of time to rest after we pass away.... (Report) Reply

  • Thomas Vaughan Jones (4/14/2014 1:29:00 PM)

    Curious. The poet switches from an avuncular advisor to a friendly workmate and never misses a step. Great message couched in perfect rhyme. Let us be up and doing, concentrating on the spiritual and letting materialism take back seat. What poet in any generation could do more. (Report) Reply

  • Sandra Feldman (4/14/2014 1:29:00 AM)

    Great advise in beautiful stanzas.
    But the world today does not listen
    They only want drugs and extravaganzas (Report) Reply

  • Kit Shum (3/26/2014 10:52:00 PM)

    Probably the greatest poem I have ever read. We had to recite this for class, and to this day, I can still do it. A rousing and inspiring poem that every young person should learn. (Report) Reply

  • Paul Stone (3/23/2014 4:42:00 PM)

    The struggle for meaning in the face of mystery challenges every person; great religions share this and Judeo-Christianity perhaps more than others the beauty of individuality as well as relationship. While rarely using religious language, Longfellow indeed tells us much of what faith teaches about the meaning and value of life itself; doubt-
    less God's greatest creation. Longfellow wrestles fearlessly it would seem, the existential question. (Report) Reply

  • Krishnakumar Chandrasekar Nair (3/1/2014 8:48:00 AM)

    Foot prints of those who walked and died
    Embedded in our prose, poetry and mind
    Such as him worthy of every verse that rings
    Truly timeless in its beauty and the bliss it brings...............

    My favorite poet and poem. I welcome all to my page too (Report) Reply

  • Annecatherine Okeke (9/15/2013 9:10:00 AM)

    i read this poem over and over again.. i almost know all stanzas by heart. in this bivouac of life, such soul lifting words are required... (Report) Reply

  • Earlene Yemima (5/25/2013 3:04:00 PM)

    This poem is written by An American poet, Henry Long Fellow. in Romantic era, this poem is one of well-know n American romantic poems. It talks about heart, spirit to be a better one each day.
    There are some of American dream they want to achieve, such as to dig our talents, to be number one, work hard, better than before.
    In this poem, Henry Fellow did a good job in arranging words and it did effectively.
    This poem giving us a new strength, an encouragement for those who are hopeless.
    This poem divides into 9 stanzas and I will try to explain by each of the stanza
    “Tell me not, in mournful number
    Life is but an empty dream
    For the soul is dead that slumbers
    And things are not what they seem”
    From this first stanza, we could conclude that the writer is a person who really optimistic and he believes life is a wonderful gift. We can see it on the first and the second line, the writer wants to convey us that he doesn’t want to hear a regretful crying, the one who sighs too much, always complaining and hates his life. He does believe life is a golden opportunity for us to fill and reach our dreams to be fulfilled and he would not waste out his time, even a second.
    The third and forth lines talk about everyone sometimes feel down. Life is never flat, sometimes we are in the top, another time we are in the bottom. Sometimes we succeed on our work, sometimes we fail. There will be a day when we are feeling desperate, our soul seems like lost its spirit. But the writer suggests us to not give up, because everything doesn’t seem like what we think. Still we have to keep on fire on doing things and reaches our dream stay strong and don’t be a coward than escapes from reality.
    “Life is real; life is earnest
    And the grave, is not its goal
    Dust thou art, to dust returnest
    Was not spoken at the soul”
    The first and second line reminds us that life is not just an imagination, we can’t play with it, we have to fill our life with meaningful things, we have to work hard, because life is to achieve what’s good in life. Life is not talking about going to die, we should have a hope. We have to dream big and soar high.
    The third and fourth tells us to do something useful in life, look for goal and work for it, don’t let this nature cycle limits our capability in work. Don’t think what we do will become useless after our life.
    “Not enjoyment and not sorrow
    Is our destined end or way
    But to act, that each tomorrow
    Find us farther than today”
    The goal of life is not about happiness or sadness at the end of its life, we are the one who choose our destiny. Each of our steps determines our future. We can’t control the length of our life, but we can control the depths. And in life we should be better in whatever we do than before. Our hard works will be paid.
    “Art is long, and the time is fleeting
    And our hearts thought stout brave
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
    Funeral marches to the grave”
    The work is lots and the time runs fast. We have to manage our time so our work would be done when the time comes. Our hearts and minds work so hard to create a plan. I think the writer does a repetition of meaning, stout and brave have the same meaning “boldness” and by combining this two synonym side by side, looks like the writer want to give a stress in it. It tells us that our heart works very hard.
    The harder the heart works, the fastest it beats. In this two lines. The writer describes the beats of heart are like the muffled drums during the funeral to the grave, it beats fast.
    “In the world broad field of battle
    In the bivouac of life
    Be not like dumb, driven cattle
    Be a hero in strife! ”
    The writer does a repetition of meaning strife and battle has the same meaning, “fight”
    We live in the world that always changes, and we have to fight to keep us survive. Do not be like a fool, easy to be controlled by other people. Be brave to fight against the flow. Try to be a winner in every life’s problem. Life may kick you down, but your confidence will bring you up. We are more than a conqueror. Show our problems that we are not that easy to be defeated.
    “Trust no future, however pleased
    Let the death past bury its dead
    Act-act in the living present
    Heart within and God o’erhead”
    Future maybe planned by it doesn’t always work as smooth as we want, in order to gain a better future, we have to forget our past. Don’t let the past haunts us and stops our steps. Do what we can do today, don’t wait until tomorrow, give the best effort. Try to love our work no matter how bad is it, like what God has ordered us in Collosians 3: 23, ”Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart”
    “Lives of great men reminds us
    We can make our live sublime
    And departing, leave behind us
    Footprint on the sand of time”
    Many great people inspire us on their life. We can see that many great men come from bitter world. They are not come out from an easy life or successful families. Success doesn’t come instantly, it needs process. And on the process we may also fail, but a great man always keep on trying, they have a dream and they believe that all of dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them. We should be like that, still focusing in what our dream. We have to be brave to come out from comfort zone. Whatever we did in our past, it will be our modal in the next.

    “footprint that perhaps another
    Sailing over life’s solemn main
    A forlon and shipwrecked brother
    Seeing, shall take heart again”
    From this stanza, we can see that a foot print is symbolized our history in gaining a success, we can overcome all problems that appear in our live. And our history also can motivate those who are feeling frustration, desperate, so they could rise up from life problems, can burn their sorrows into ashes.


    “Let us, then be up and doing
    With a heart of any fate
    Still achieving, still pursing
    Learn to labor and to wait”
    Don’t think too much about our future because it depends on us, do everything with our heart, enjoy it, and every good things will followed us.
    Work better, try harder are the main key of being success. Keep on trying, work and be patient. Just surrender it to God. Do our best and God will do the rest!
















    Conclusion:
    Henry Fellow is teaching us to have a thankful heart, believe that life is a wonderful gift, not a wasting moment. encourage us that each of us can does great things. God never created rubbish. Don’t let your dream burned inside and never exist. If we are dare to dream, make sure we will make it happen.
    Life is a golden opportunity for all of us to make a history, don’t let your life end up with useless thing. Don’t look back in your past. You may do any flash back, but don’t stay with it too long. Your past may influence your present, but whether it will ruin your future or not, its your choice. Life is symbolized with a battle which means we have to do something to keep us alive. All that we have been through will inspire others. Whatever the life bring, trust yourself that you can handle it. (Report) Reply

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