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A Psalm of Life: The Poem

Dr. Meyer is the President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA. He has been writing Think About It articles for over 10 years.

THINK ABOUT IT

Don Meyer, Ph.D.

A Psalm of Life: The Poem

“Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime.

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

Beth Pears, my niece, has been teaching high school English for over 20 years.  During a recent conversation with her we spoke of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poetry and one of her favorite poems, A Psalm of Life. I knew a few lines but I don’t think I had ever read it in its entirety.

Longfellow wrote the poem A Psalm of Life shortly after completing lectures on German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and was strongly inspired by him.  He was also inspired to write it by a heartfelt conversation he had with friend and fellow professor at Harvard University, Conway Felton.

According to Lawrance Thompson in his book Young Longfellow (1938), the two had spent an evening “talking of matters, which lie near one’s soul – and how to bear one’s self doughtily in Life’s battle, and make the best of things.”  The next day he wrote  A Psalm of Life.

Written in an ABAB rhyme scheme in 9 stanzas varying between 7-8 syllables per line, it was first published in The Knickerbocker magazine in 1838.  Longfellow was promised five dollars of its publication, though he never received payment.  Later, this poem along with several others was collected and published as Voices of the Night in 1839 which sold for 75 cents.

Here is the poem.  Next week I will share some of my reflections on the poem.

 

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 though 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 tomorrow

   Find us farther than today.

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 the 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.


In my next column I will share some of the ways this poem has impacted me.  Meanwhile, I would invite you to read it…read it…read it…and then…

Think about it.

 

Dr. Don Meyer is President of

Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA

Responses can be emailed to president@vfcc.edu

Official page:  Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer

Published originally in The Phoenix, www.phoenixvillenews.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

David Hawkins February 13, 2013 at 05:59 PM
You can make songs of your poems with this website! www.MakeYourPoemASong.com It's awesome!

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