Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Psalm of Life

It's Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's birthday today. Perhaps best known for his story-poems about American history, Longfellow was once a household name, known as one of the Fireside Poets (people used to read his poems by the fireside) as well as one of the Schoolroom Poets (his picture was hung in every schoolroom and school children memorized his poetry). Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and John Greenleaf Whittier fall into those categories as well. I think I first read this poem in one of the Little House books when Carrie recited it for one of the famous School Exhibitions. I especially love the message of the last verse and have my American Lit. students memorize it each year.

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 are, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

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 sand of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solenm 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.


inlandempiregirl said...

Perfect! I love Wadsworth. I may have to recite this in class tomorrow.

Rondi said...

Recite? Does that mean you know it, too?! I know how you love poetry. Every time I read a particularly lovely poem I think of you =)