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 tomorrow
Find us farther than today.
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, how’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 walk.
H. W. Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), the great American poet, was a professor at Harvard. His great fame began with the publication of his first volume of poems VOICES OF THE NIGHT in 1839 which included A PSALM OF LIFE - one of nineteenth century’s best-loved poems. His other collections include Ballads (1841), Evangeline (1847), Hiawatha (1855), The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858) and Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863).
Longfellow was the most popular poet of his age and during his lifetime he became a national institution. His work was musical, mildly romantic, high-minded and flavored with sentimental preachment. This is the statement about Longfellow by Norton Anthology of American Literature
This poem seems to give a great deal of good advice. It tells the reader not to waste his/her time but to be up and going… not to be discouraged by failures but to have a heart for any fate…not to judge life by temporary standards but to look to eternal reward.