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A Psalm of Life
by
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


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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.

Purchase a framed print of this poem.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882) is generally considered to be 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.

 


New comments are closed for now.
Janet Leahy:
Lovely to learn about the "Fireside Poets," that's a group I would like to join.
Posted 06/23/2014 10:32 AM
John:
How poetry has changed from then to now, with few modern poets interested in rhyme. Although to some ears this poem will seem dated, it is replete with lines that have lasted to this day. If only poetry were read as much today as it was in Longfellow's time!
Posted 06/23/2014 09:16 AM
TheSilverOne:
At the age of 18, I decided to memorize poems I liked. This was my first, so all these words are familiar to me. A good start on the adult years. Nice read the familiar verses again!
Posted 06/23/2014 09:07 AM
Wilda Morris:
I've always been fond of Longfellow - my interest in him was sparked by the fact that I went to Longfellow Elementary School. I've read this poem many times, and different verses stand out at different times. It's a great reminder of many important things.
Posted 06/23/2014 08:54 AM
rhonasheridan:
I had forgotten all about this poem. Not read since school-days. Now being 89 it seems especially pertinent to me. We have poetry afternoons in our Care Home, and I will read it at the next one. Poetry is wonderful for us 'oldies' - from A.A Milne to Betjeman we gain from them all.
Posted 06/23/2014 01:12 AM


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