A Psalm of Life

11 July 2007

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.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

This entry was inspired by watching CSI episode “Happy Ending” where another of Longfellow’s poems (The Arrow And The Song) is used.

I first became acquainted with “A Psalm of Life” as a young teenager reading “Fifty Celebrated Men Their Lives and Trials and the Deeds that Made Them Famous”. The book contained a couple of the verses from the poem (one in the preface and one to introduce a chapter).

I was given this book by a friend of my grandmother. The book has the following inscription on the first leaf:

Presented to John Hill for regular attendance by the Daisy Hill Sunday School Band of Hope Committe – Oct 13th 1888

The book was originally bought at “T. Brear & Co. Ltd. Booksellers & Stationers, Bradford”.