Poem Summary: A Psalm of Life by HW Longfellow

USA-longfellow-stampThis poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of my most inspiring poems. This poem speaks about life and how to live it even as you know about your inevitable death. Each stanza speaks about the irony of life with its troubles and tribulations and yet it breaks the irony with the zeal for a better existence. It’s most beautiful parts could be quoted as a wise man’s advice to most problems faced by a human in any century. This immortal poem therefore will be subject of my post today where I will try to analyse the poet’s inspirational masterpiece with my humble understanding. I hope that in doing so, I will still preserve the meaning and purport of the poem.

A Psalm of Life

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.

Here the poet tells us that never think life is pessimistic and we are chasing goals which will never materialize.

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.

So, Life is real and actually happening and we are not here for just looking forward to die. We have a higher purpose in our life. Though our body may perish, but our soul lives forever.

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

Our end goal is not pleasure or pain, but we must progress and refine ourselves. We should be better than what we were yesterday.

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.

However this journey towards perfection is very long, but do we have so much time ? We are walking towards our grave, says Longfellow .

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!

Life is a battle and the world we live in is a battlefield. Our purpose is not to be reactive and driven by somebody else but to play an active role in this battle and be the hero.

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!

Don’t depend on a dreamy future and don’t let your difficult past let you down. Act now since it is all that is in your control and work wholeheartedly. Do your best and leave the rest to God overhead.

 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.

Great people inspire us through their lives but leave behind their footprints. This means we can achieve similar greatness if we follow them in our desperate times and reach our destinations and find meaning in our life

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving,still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

So, the poet urges us to start the work and keep working without having any expectations in our heart and wait patiently until the fruits of our labor realize.

A recitation of the poem

Related Links :

A project dedicated to HW Longfellow, his life and his works

Amazing facts about Longfellow 


3 comments on “Poem Summary: A Psalm of Life by HW Longfellow

  1. vijaya rao says:

    This wonderful poem 1of d master pieces describes that ‘Life is real! Life is earnest!’ The feelings of the poet have been explained well by u Prashant that the poet uses an encouraging tone to say that life is real and serious. Life should not be treated lightly. Moreover, the poet says that death is not the ultimate goal; life does not end with death. “Dust thou art, to dust returnest” is not applicable to the soul, this quotation is applicable only to the body as soul is immortal..
    Life is always recreated with perfection with every step u take towards future…
    I really appreciate the way in which u have tried to explain d feelings of d poet..well done.
    God bless..

  2. Secret superstar says:

    Very niceeee

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