Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Longfellow's "A Psalm of Life"

[Blogger's note: I wrote this on February 28th but didn't get it posted until today (March 6)]

Tuesday (February 27, 2007) marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow’s pen gave us of the best known American poetry, such as The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Hiawatha, and The Wreck of the Hesperus (which I knew by title long before I read it in school because Mom said my room often looked like it). He also wrote one of the most poignant Christmas carols I know (I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day) … one that is as relevant today as it was when he wrote it. In celebration of a gifted poet and his lasting impact on good American literature, I share with you Longfellow’s 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 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.

What a wonderfully gifted poet Longfellow was. That’s enough to think about for now.

[Blogger's postscript: As I edited this from my Wednesday rehearsal handout, I noticed something in the text that made me wonder whether the children's round "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" preceded or followed this poem. Read line 2 of stanza 1 and think about it.]


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