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A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


In "A Psalm of Life" Longfellow is telling his readers that life is not something which should be wasted, instead he suggests optimism and a philosophy of joyousness. He suggests that life is here to live for today and not to wait for death. He says that it isn't what is afterlife which is precious, but it is how we get there. We should better ourselves. He goes on to say that even the most brave person is afraid of death, even though sometimes we do not wish to go on living. However, we must. We must go on and be strong. We must live on and not be held captive of the past.

This poem consists of the rhyme scheme ABAB and uses it throughout the poem's entirety. It consists of nine stanzas with four lines each.


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.

Published in Voices of the Night in 1839.

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