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Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. "A Psalm of Life".

Summary

The poem opens with a quotation of the English poet Richard Cranshaw: "Life that shall send / A challenge to its end, / And when it comes, say "Welcome, friend.", and a sort of subtitle: "What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist".

The poem refuses passive and melancholic attitudes to life and bids to live and to act. The speaker refuses to be told in mournful meters that life is but an empty dream. According to him life is real and earnest. The aim of life is not a grave, neither pleasure nor sorrow, but action.

There is too little time and the art is long to learn. Yet, the speaker bids the reader not to be like dumb driven cattle, but to be a hero. Not to look in past or future, but in present. The examples of great men show that we can make our lives sublime and leave our footsteps in the sands of time, so that they will serve as examples for next men.

 

Analysis

- simple, but not primitive, relatively easy to read and to appreciate

- melodic and pleasing

- the poem offers "directions" for life in the typically American optimistic vein

- urges for consequential and useful action

- implies the speaker's dislike of lofty, elaborate, but pessimistic and hopeless "psalms"

Basics

  • Author

    Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. (1807 - 1882).
  • Full Title

    "A Psalm of Life".
  • First Published

    In: Knickerbocker. NY: 1838.
  • Form

    Poem.

Works Cited

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. "A Psalm of Life". (1838). In: The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym et al. NY: Norton, 1989.

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