Analysis of A Psalm of Life by H.W Longfellow

The title of A Psalm of Life is an appropriate one. A psalm is an invocation to mankind to follow the path of the righteousness. Here, the speaker advises people to be heroes in their lives. He asks them to lie in the present, without thinking about the past or the future.

A poem teaching a moral lesson is called a didactic poem. A Psalm of Life is a didactic poem. The poet’s task in the poem is to instruct and guide, to inspire and modify. The poem teaches basic human values and lays out a foundation for a prosperous, ethical life.


Form and structure:
The poem consists of nine stanzas of four lines each. The poem has regular rhyming pattern. Each stanza follows the rhyme scheme abab. In every stanza, the first line rhymes with the third line and the second line with the fourth.

Allusion is a reference to other works or cultures in prose and poetry. H.W Longfellow has used allusions to convey his message in the poem.

‘Tell me not, in mournful numbers.’
In the above line, numbers refer to the verses in the Bible.

‘Dust thou art, to dust thou returnest’
The above line too has a Biblical reference.

Similes: It is a figure of speech in which a likeness between two different things is stated using the words ‘like’ or ‘as.’ Examples of similes in A Psalm of Life are,

1. Still, like muffled drums, are beating
2. Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Metaphor is that figure of speech where comparison of two different things are implied but not clearly stated. Examples of metaphor in the poem are,

1. Life is but an empty dream.
2. Soul id dead that slumbers…
3. Art is long and Time is fleeting

Alliteration is the close repetition of the consonant sounds at the beginning of words to facilitate narration. Examples of alliteration in the poem are,

1. Grave is not its goal
2. Find us further
3. Dumb driven cattle
4. Learn to labour
5. Dust thou art, to dust thou returnest.

Parallelism is used when the speaker says
1. Life is real! Life is earnest!
2. Still achieving still pursuing.

H.W Longfellow points out that one has a duty to make this world a better place to live in. A Psalm of Life is a whole collection of moral principles to be followed by all the people. The principles listed by the poem are enumerated as follows,-

*Life has a serious mission.
*Life does not end with death.
*We have a destiny irrespective of our joys and sorrows.
*Time is too short for our long mission.
*Become great by emulating great men.
*Learn to labor and wait for results.
*Act now, in the living present.
*Be a hero in the struggle of life.

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21 thoughts on “Analysis of A Psalm of Life by H.W Longfellow”

  1. OMG this has helped me tons for my project..
    It really is a beautiful poem though. Today, everyone viewing this page is seeing one of Longfellow’s footprints and, if you’re like me, being inspired by it. In this way, Longfellow fulfills his own prediction. Beautiful.

  2. just a tip, there is a typo in the metaphors section #2. it is supposed to be The should IS dead that slumbers. It says id instead of is.

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