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Summary of A Psalm Of Life by H.W Longfellow

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.

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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.

You can also take a look at this Detailed Video Playlist containing the Summary, Analysis and Much more from the Poem:

Keywords: A psalm of life summary, a psalm of life meaning, a psalm of life explanation

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  1. Reply
    amelia saxcena October 25, 2014 at 8:45 am

    hye .. what does dust thou are, to dust thou return-est mean ? does it mean you r made of dust so you shall return to dust /?? is that right ?

    • Reply
      uday September 19, 2016 at 3:10 am

      thanks very much i t helped me a lot

    • Reply
      debadri December 6, 2015 at 3:11 pm

      yes……but it means that we have taken birth from dust and after dying we wil aso go to dust……that what the line exactly means….

    • Reply
      Mary December 10, 2014 at 4:23 pm


    • Reply
      Chandrima Nath November 20, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      yes… It is a biblical allusion of Adam and Eve…. the body which is made of dust perishes into dust….

  2. Reply
    mohd November 16, 2014 at 9:41 am


  3. Reply
    Mary December 10, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Omg this helped me so much thanks

  4. Reply
    chandrika r mohan December 19, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    opens up a new realm, of life.

  5. Reply
    sam January 11, 2015 at 10:16 am

    plzzz.. tell me that shll v write 2 the point answers in reference 2 context questions 2 score good marks

    • Reply
      debadri December 6, 2015 at 3:13 pm

      no single wayed answer

  6. Reply
    Nirmala January 26, 2015 at 6:46 am

    The notes were to the point for easy comprehension. . Well worded

  7. Reply
    suvam dutta February 27, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    mind blowing

  8. Reply
    utkarsh kotecha May 29, 2015 at 7:46 am

    i liked it very much. i had a project on this poem and i wanted to know more about the poem and this has helped me so much. thank you

    • Reply
      Narendra nabira February 9, 2016 at 10:55 am

      Its a good explanation which is given here it’s help me a lot??????………

  9. Reply
    Anjanie June 10, 2015 at 4:09 am

    Stanza 4 ERROR.
    You’ve written that-
    One SHOULD lose courage under any circumstance.

  10. Reply
    Nicole June 28, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Thanks! This helped me a lot.

  11. Reply
    vigneshwaran July 20, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    It’s very very very very very useful……

  12. Reply
    kathir September 9, 2015 at 10:25 am

    i think in the third stanza, it should be – ” way of leaving should not be only based on enjoyment or mourning” instead of ” way of leaving should be only based on enjoyment or mourning” right. please reply, im not sure.

    • Reply
      Dakshin karthik December 7, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      True… There are a few errors in the explanation.

  13. Reply
    dipali October 4, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    It was really of great help …thanx alot… Tmrrow is my exam and I didn’t knew what to write in the answer sheet if ques comes from this vary poem……but now it’s a great relief……. Thank u so much…..

  14. Reply
    Earam arshi October 29, 2015 at 8:53 am

    I was really vry.. Helpful.. Thanx a lot.. 🙂 🙂

  15. Reply
    Medha Bhowmick October 29, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    very good notes and very useful

  16. Reply
    vedangi November 20, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    thanks for the summary

  17. Reply
    Zeenat Ansari November 23, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    I love to read stories which are moralistic and interesting

  18. Reply
    Dakshin karthik December 7, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Woah… The explanation for stanza four is slightlty off track…
    It talks about how short our lives are.

  19. Reply
    ramachari January 2, 2016 at 11:52 am

    helped me a lot in my exams.but your explanations r very brief

  20. Reply
    kanika February 21, 2016 at 9:25 am

    what do u mean by dust thou art to dust thou returnest

  21. Reply
    Sebastian Polackal February 25, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Hey Trisha ,
    Thank you for taking the effort to provide us with the a summary that is to the point and crystal clear. There is a also a certain poetic flow to all your summaries. It seems you have already left your footprints on the sands of time which we can follow. Thank you

    A grateful student

  22. Reply
    pranav February 26, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    crazy notes dude,it was mind blowin

  23. Reply
    Sagar minhas March 2, 2016 at 2:21 am

    Quite helpful!! As today is my board exam 😉 a

  24. Reply
    devasena March 6, 2016 at 4:53 pm


  25. Reply
    devasena March 6, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    nice site

  26. Reply
    Adekeye Ezekiel May 15, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Yes this poem is so good. It is didatic , moralistic , spiritual and normative. It cut across all areas of our lives. And its advice to us is to take life seriously. Make good use of our time and skill. Lay good steps for others. I think the major theme of this poem is THE TRUTH ABOUT LIFE .

  27. Reply
    Nupur Shankar June 5, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Could you please fix the typos. Also there are some incorrect explanations.

  28. Reply
    Raghav Jual June 11, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    What does the word ‘PLASM’ mean?(according to the poem)

  29. Reply
    alWib March 19, 2017 at 3:43 am
  30. Reply
    P.Abirami August 5, 2017 at 6:58 am

    Thanks for good explanation…

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