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Joseph Grijalva


A Psalm of Life

Author:  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


                   This peom is located on  It was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 - March 24, 1882). who was an American Poet as well as a linguist and teacher.  In fact, he was apointed to be the first Modern Languages proffessor at Bowdoin College and taugh at Harvard in 1834.  The poem " A Psalm for life," was originally published in Knicherbocker Magazine and also in the first published collection of Longfellow's works, Voices in the Night.


                   The Poem does not really have a clear setting or plot, but is set up in the form of a reflection, that probably took place between a young man and a Psalm.  " A Psalm of life" , is basically a relfection of the ways Longfellow thinks that we should life, and the mechanics of how he thinks that life works.


                   I have always felt that, in order for life to be worth living, it must have a purpose.  Longfellow seems to share my belief.    In his poem the tries to point out some of the ways that we can live a meaningful life and what some of th epurposes of life are.  In the third stansa Longfellow expresses that our life's work is not to find happiness or saddness but instead to work for the betterment of ourselves so that tommorrow might find us " farther than to-day" .  A theme that seems to arrise is the fact that we will die.  Stanza four expresses this strongly by pointing out that no matter how strong our bodies might be today, with every beat of our heart we are coming closer to the end of our lives.  However the poem does not leave us without hope, for the core of what we are, our souls knows no time (" Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul" ).  This poem also contains the theme of individualism stating that we should be leaders in hardship no simply dumb animals following their leader.  The poem also contains the them of letting bygones be bygones and not simply letting the future taking care of itself in stanza six. Longfellow tells us with his words in this section to always live in the present moment (trying to avoid " mental field-trips).  Most of us have been inspired by someone else, in many cases someone who might be dead.  Longfellow, brings up this issue towards the end of his poem saying that we leave a legacy behind (" footprints in the sand" ), and that we should make our legacy great so that someone in the future might take heart from our accomplishments.  The last stanza sums up all of these ideas nicely stating that we should be ready for anything, always working to better ourselves, and adding that we should know when to jump in to our tasks and when to wait.


                   " A Psalm for life," is divided into 9 stanzas, all consisting of four sentences.  The last word of every other sentence usually rhymes or shares the same word ending.  Many of the stanzas contain more than one sentence.  Interestingly, almost every Stanza contains a metaphor or some other kind of symbolism.

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 destin'd 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.

VIn 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 glorious Present!

Heart within, and God o'er head!

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footsteps on the sands of time.

Footsteps, that, perhaps another,

Sailing o'er life's solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwreck'd 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.