“A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This popular poem by American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was first published in the literary magazine, The Knickerbocker, in 1838. The following year, this poem was collected with several other early Longfellow works and published in a volume titled Voices of the Night. Longfellow revisits the idea of likening poems to psalms as well as other themes from “A Psalm of Life" in subsequent works on several other occasions, including one entitled "The Reaper and the Flowers" which was originally subtitled "A Psalm of Death".

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Program Credits

Announcer: Thomas Lamar
Narrator: Todd Green
Composer: Conner Savoca
Sound Design & Mixing: Christopher Green
Photography: Alex Wigan
Producer/Director: J.D. Sutter

Entry on Wikipedia for "A Psalm of Life"
Entry on Wikipedia for Longfellow
Longfellow's Bio on The Poetry Foundation
Detailed Line-by-Line Analysis of "A Psalm of Life" by Jayanta K. Maity

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Image credit: Wikimedia

“A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth 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.

Verses Viewpoint

The team shares their thoughts on this poem

Narrator, Todd Green, shares his thoughts on "A Psalm of Life".