Monday, December 21, 2020

Today's poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I was looking at my 2020 Susan Branch calendar and saw that the last piece of verse she noted on the December page is the last verse of this poem. It is quite fitting for our very strange and sad year. Ah, Longfellow. Always and forever one of my favorites. He puts his whole soul into his work. And I've just ordered a brand new biography of him! So excited.

This was first published in 1838. His first wife had died just a few years earlier after a miscarriage.

Here is an 1840  portrait of him done by Cephas Thompson.

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.


  1. I don't think I've ever seen a portrait of him as a young man, very nice. And I hadn't thought about this poem in a long time but how very appropriate for now. I see the last three verses a lot but not the whole poem. "Be a hero in the strife." I've always loved him too but didn't know his first wife had died before this was written. Your New England poets and authors always seem to be my favorite.

    I love your pretty village houses!

  2. I had no idea Longfellow was the source of so many quotes, and so many from just this one poem. I imagine all our New England grandparents and great grandparents must have memorized this quotation super spreader poem as children and continued to quote it all their lives.

  3. I love the poem and the portrait. That's not a picture of him I've ever run across before.

    Sounds like you are getting yourself all prepared to read that special present you told me about. :-)

    1. I tried to find a picture of what he looked like when he wrote the poem, and had luck!
      And yes!

  4. I am also a Longfellow fan. Some day when the world is back to normal, you must road trip to Cambridge and visit his home if you have not done so before. It is so lovely I sometimes drive or walk by just to pass it. Of course, it is closed now but the website has some nice features:

    1. We were just talking about when we were students at BU we used to pass by his house all the time. Why we didn't visit, I don't know. I wonder if it has always been open to the public. Anyhow, thank you for the address, and I would dearly love to do just that.

    2. I just visited the site, and it is wonderful! Thanks a million.


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