A Psalm of Life, a lyric of religious emotion was published in October of 1838. This poem is taken from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s first volume of poems. A ‘psalm’ is a sacred song, an invocation to mankind to follow the path of righteousness. A Psalm of Life is a blow to the pessimistic attitude of taking life lightly. The poet encourages his readers not to waste life, that life is short and is going to end soon. The poem highlights the views of the poet about how to live life and that there is only one life and therefore, we should make a good use of it.
The poem consists of nine stanzas, each containing four lines. The poet begins the poem by asking us not to tell him in sorrowful verses that life is an empty, meaningless dream. According to Longfellow, a person who spends his sleeping is already dead. Such a worthless life misguides other human beings. Finally, irresponsibility does not reflect the true human nature.
The second stanza begins with two phrases, ‘Life is real! Life is earnest!’ The poet uses an encouraging tone to say that life is real and serious. Life should not be treated lightly. Moreover, the poet says that death is not the ultimate goal; life does not end with death. “Dust thou art, to dust returnest” is not applicable to the soul, this quotation is applicable only to the body.
The third stanza of A Psalm of Life is about the way of living. The poet tells us that our way of leaving should be only based on enjoyment or mourning. The aim of life is to act wisely each day so that we can make a better future.
Stanza four is about the work assigned to us and about the time which is flying. “Art is long, and Time is fleeting” means that the work given to us is too long and time-consuming. The poet encourages that under such situations, our hearts still remain stout and brave and are beating funeral marches to the grave, like the drums covered with cloth. The message that the poet wants to convey through this stanza is that one should lose courage under any circumstance.
In the fifth stanza, the poet compares the world to a battlefield as well as a temporary camp for troops. The humans are compared with troops. He asks all the people to live and fight their battles within the given period of time. The poet asks us not to be like the dumb cattle which is driven by others, because of its lack of direction and determination.
The poet asks us not to trust on the future even if it seems pleasant in the sixth stanza of A Psalm of Life. The past incidents must be forgotten away. The aim in life should be to act courageously at present and not to lose faith in God.
Lives of great men remind us that we can make our own lives noble and elevated that is we can reach great heights. Finally when we die, we can leave behind us our footprints (noble deeds) for others to follow our path.
The noble deeds which we leave behind should be such that an unhappy and shipwrecked man, sailing over the sea of life, would be confident and take courage, following our example.
In the final stanza of A Psalm of Life, the poet asks us to begin at once with courage without thinking about the consequences of the actions. He asks us to achieve our aim and learn to work hard and wait patiently for rewards.
About The Poet:
H.W Longfellow (February 27, 1807- March 24, 1882) was an American poet and educator. He taught at Bowdoin College and Harvard University. After retiring from Harvard University, he devoted himself completely to writing. His best known poems are Songs of Hiawatha, Evangeline, Hesperus, Excelsior and A Psalm of Life.