A Psalm of Life: Theme, Tone, and Central Idea

The poem A Psalm of Life by H.W. Longfellow consists of nine stanzas with four lines each. End rhyme has been used extensively in the poem throughout. It follows the rhyme pattern of abab/cdcd/efef/high/ijij/klkl/mnmn/opop/qrqr

A Psalm of Life Central Idea

The poem A Psalm of Life by H.W. Longfellow is a call to action made by the poet, urging the youth to make the most of the present, irrespective of the looming threat of death and the myriad hardships that life might throw upon our paths. Hence, the poem’s central idea is to utilize the present to the fullest and enrich it with as much hard work as possible without carrying any baggage from our past or being fascinated by plans for the Future. The poet asks us to take inspiration from our great forefathers who have made their mark in History and urges us to do the same for our future generations. The poet also stresses the virtue of patience and courage as they will be our guiding light while we try to work our way through the struggles which beautifying our present will entail. According to the poem, although our days on Earth are numbered, we must not be bothered by the fact that we will lose it all in the end because our soul, which will seek development because of all our efforts, will live on and add meaning to our short time on Earth.

A Psalm of Life Theme

The major theme of the poem is Carpe Diem which is Latin for ‘seize the day. Longfellow thinks that the present holds the key to fulfilling our transient life and making it worth something. According to him, we will get nothing by involving ourselves with our past or present. The best way to lead one’s life is to fill our days with as much productive activity as possible without wasting our time in merriment or meager sorrows. The poet asserts fervently in the poem that if we work on our present and develop ourselves and our soul through it, we will defeat Death.

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The transience of life is another theme that has been touched upon in the poem. The poet says that our time on this planet is finite. He makes us aware of this in the 4th stanza when he says – “our hearts though stout and brave,/Still like muffled drums are beating/Funeral marches to the grave.” His aim behind reminding us about the temporal nature of life is not to scare us but to inspire us to make the most of our gift of life while it lasts.

The importance of the soul is another theme that has been touched upon in the poem. The poet says that our soul is our ticket to immortality. Our bodies will go back to the dust it comes from, but our soul will live on, so we must add meaning to our life by cultivating our soul. The power of art is an important theme. The poet has hinted in the poem that one of the best ways to enrich our lives and souls is by indulging in Art – Art is long, time is fleeting.

Courage is a recurring theme in the poem. The poet does not promise us a rosy picture of the path that he has prescribed for us. On the contrary, he ensures us that we will face difficulties and obstacles. However, he also assures us that these hardships and struggles will be easy for us to sail through if we have the virtue of courage strong in our hearts.

A Psalm of Life Tone

AS THE NAME SUGGESTS, ‘A Psalm of Life is a sacred song beckoning humankind to walk on the right path. Hence, the tone of the poem is very didactic and filled with spiritual fervor. The poet adopts a didactic tone when he tells us about the uncertainty of life and the importance of the present. He adopts a spiritually fervent tone when he asks us to enrich our souls and not be scared of the hardships of life. On the other hand, the tone of the poet is very encouraging throughout. At every point, he encourages us to seize our present and fill it with a burst of activity, either by giving examples of great men of the past or by asking us to have courage and patience in the face of hardships. Overall, the poem has a moral tone, but at no point does it sound preachy because of all the vigor and enthusiasm that Longfellow has awarded his psalm with.

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A Psalm of Life is a highly inspirational piece that imparts a vital life lesson: seizing the day with hard work, courage, and patience. The tone of the poem is didactic and encouraging, whereas the style is very ornate. The poet has used poetic devices extensively throughout the poet who has increased the poeticality of the poem on the whole. The poem’s message diffuses into its readers is highly spiritual and is relevant to readers of all times, making this poem as significant now as it was when it had been published in 1839.