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A Psalm of Life
Henry Wadsworth 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.

This poem is in the public domain.


Most experts would agree that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was the most popular American poet of the nineteenth century. A family man who suffered much tragedy in his personal life,  Longfellow was the first of a group of writers known as the "Fireside Poets," called such for their popularity with families all over the country who gathered by the fire in the evenings to read the work of these poets aloud. Longfellow published poetry over a forty year period, and enjoyed public adulation in line with that of rock stars and celebrities today.


Post New Comment:
michael escoubas:
It is always encouraging that sages of old are incredibly current -- their themes while are ever-old, are never out-of-date.
Posted 08/16/2020 12:49 PM
Yes, as the psalmist says, I�ll add my voice in the chorus of adulation.
Posted 08/16/2020 11:20 AM
I could recite this poem in the sixth grade and think I still could if prompted on the first line of some of the stanzas. Excellent, excellent choice, Jayne. "Let us then be up and doing, with a heart for any fate"!!!
Posted 08/16/2020 10:28 AM
I really enjoyed reading this. Quite the inspiration, which I have printed out and pasted on my wall along with the other poems which move me. Randy
Posted 08/16/2020 09:11 AM
Larry Schug:
Great selection, Jayne. Thank you. Now let's all try to live this way today.
Posted 08/16/2020 08:44 AM

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