Tell me not, in
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 art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
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 sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn 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.
Wadsworth Longfellow was one of America's most positive and
life-loving poets ever. While people in academic fields tend
to scorn his work as "simplistic" or even
"childish" (in our 19th-century American lit class, we
skipped right over him), the fact remains that he was the most
popular American poet of the 19th century. Longfellow had a
broad education having spent several years living in Europe, partly
in preparation for his post as professor at Harvard, where he
eventually became head of the Modern Languages department. He
suffered through the deaths of two wives--his first wife died in
Holland in 1835; his second wife was burned to death in a domestic
accident in 1861. Tragedy, though, did not mean the end of
creativity for Longfellow, as he continued to work through his
"A Psalm of Life" was published
in 1839, and its advice is ageless and encouraging. "Life
is real!" is a call that few of us take to heart and act
on--but "to act, that each to-morrow find us farther than
to-day" is precisely the way that most students of life
recommend to get the most out of this life we've been given.
Longfellow encourages us to act, but also to have patience enough to
let our actions take effect--and hopefully, that effect will be to
help another person to gain hope and courage in his or her own walk
through life. Let us be up and doing, so that we can encourage
others to get the most out of their lives, too.