A Psalm of Life

A Psalm of Life

What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

Original Text
The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with Bibliographical and Critical Notes, Riverside Edition (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1890), I, 20-22. PS 2250 E90 Robarts Library.
2    Life is but an empty dream! --
3For the soul is dead that slumbers,
4    And things are not what they seem.
5Life is real! Life is earnest!
6    And the grave is not its goal;
7Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
8    Was not spoken of the soul.
9Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
10    Is our destined end or way;
11But to act, that each to-morrow
12    Find us farther than to-day.
14    And our hearts, though stout and brave,
15Still, like muffled drums, are beating
16    Funeral marches to the grave.
17In the world's broad field of battle,
18    In the bivouac of Life,
19Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
20    Be a hero in the strife!
21Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
22    Let the dead Past bury its dead!
23Act, -- act in the living Present!
24    Heart within, and God o'erhead!
25Lives of great men all remind us
26    We can make our lives sublime,
27And, departing, leave behind us
28    Footprints on the sands of time;
29Footprints, that perhaps another,
30    Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
31A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
32    Seeing, shall take heart again.
33Let us, then, be up and doing,
34    With a heart for any fate;
35Still achieving, still pursuing,
36    Learn to labor and to wait.


1] "Mr. Longfellow said of this poem: `I kept it some time in manuscript, unwilling to show it to any one, it being a voice from my inmost heart, at a time when I was rallying from depression.' Before it was published in the Knickerbocker Magazine, October, 1838, it was read by the poet to his college class at the close of a lecture on Goethe. Its title, though used now exclusively for this poem, was originally, in the poet's mind, a generic one. He notes from time to time that he has written a psalm, a psalm of death, or another psalm of life. The `psalmist' is thus the poet himself. When printed in the Knickerbocker it bore as a motto the lines from Crashaw:
Life that shall send
A challenge to its end,
And when it comes, say, Welcome, friend."

(Editor's note) Literally, the psalmist is of course King David. Back to Line
13] "Ars longa vita brevis est" (an aphorism by Hippocrates). Back to Line
Publication Start Year
Publication Notes
Knickerbocker Magazine (Oct. 1838); Voices of the Night (1839)
RPO poem Editors
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition
RPO 1998.