A Psalm of Life – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As I was meditating upon Psalm 90 today, my sons reminded me of this poem, a long-time favorite. The message of the poet seems to reverberate with the hopeful thought (also present in Psalm 90) that life, though short, may be intensely meaningful and significant. I copied and pasted the poem from the site Representative Poetry Online.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

A Psalm of Life
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

1Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
2 Life is but an empty dream! —
3For the soul is dead that slumbers,
4 And things are not what they seem.

5Life is real! Life is earnest!
6 And the grave is not its goal;
7Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
8 Was not spoken of the soul.

9Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
10 Is our destined end or way;
11But to act, that each to-morrow
12 Find us farther than to-day.

13Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
14 And our hearts, though stout and brave,
15Still, like muffled drums, are beating
16 Funeral marches to the grave.

17In the world’s broad field of battle,
18 In the bivouac of Life,
19Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
20 Be a hero in the strife!

21Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
22 Let the dead Past bury its dead!
23Act, — act in the living Present!
24 Heart within, and God o’erhead!

25Lives of great men all remind us
26 We can make our lives sublime,
27And, departing, leave behind us
28 Footprints on the sands of time;

29Footprints, that perhaps another,
30 Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
31A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
32 Seeing, shall take heart again.

33Let us, then, be up and doing,
34 With a heart for any fate;
35Still achieving, still pursuing,
36 Learn to labor and to wait.
Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.Original text: The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with Bibliographical and Critical Notes, Riverside Edition (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1890), I, 20-22. PS 2250 E90 Robarts Library.
First publication date: October 1838
Publication date note: Knickerbocker Magazine (Oct. 1838); Voices of the Night (1839)
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 4:2002/4/6Composition date: 20 July 1838
Rhyme: abab

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