There is magic in the poem ‘A Psalm of Life’ by the quintessential American poet H.W Longfellow. It tells us about how life should be lived. It teaches us to move ahead in life instead of giving up.
While the poem is simple to understand, it can be a little difficult to get the entire meaning of the poem. So to help you in understanding the meaning and message of the poem, we present a detailed summary of A Psalm of Life.
Let’s take a look at the poem first and then at the summary.
A Psalm of Life by H.W. Longfellow
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 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.
‘A Psalm of Life’ Summary
‘A Psalm of Life’ is a guide to life. The poet aims to tell people how life ought to be lived. It works as a manifesto, a philosophy that can be followed.
The poet starts the poem that life is not an empty dream and nothing real. It is not just a countdown toward death. Life should be lived with passion and excitement.
While the body that we have is mortal and we have only some years, the same is not true for the soul. The soul is immortal and that makes our goal of life more than just the grave.
The aim of life is not to look for joy or avoid sorrow because both cases are a waste of time. Rather, life is about living each day better than the day before. The goal of life should be to keep moving forward.
Even though our hearts are brave and stout, each moment we are moving towards our end. There are so many things there to learn, and skills to master but the time that we have in this world is limited, and it is going away every moment.
But not just art, but to be a fighter in life. Do not be driven around like herds of cattle. You are not meant to follow but to lead. Be the hero. Here, Longfellow criticizes the Christian idea of following the ‘shepherd.’
Life should happen in the moment; not thinking about the gone past or the coming future. Just keep strength in your heart and trust that God is looking out for you.
Learn from the great men who have done great deeds. They might be long gone, but their deeds are still present to inspire us.
Someone else who might be thinking that he is alone in his journey will look at these great men and get courage from these leaders. Their great works of bravery will fill them up with bravery as well.
So get up and start working without thinking too much about the results or the future. Be ready for whatever happens in the future, just ensure that you keep working ahead and achieve more things; Learn to work hard and to wait.
Read the detailed analysis of the poem ‘A Psalm of Life’ by H.W Longfellow