2 min read

Psalm of life

Psalm of life
Psalm of life

Very few times we come across words, stories or poems which leave a lasting impression. One such poem which has lasted with me and helped me through every ups and down is "The psalm of life" by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

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 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.

When I first read the poem as part of the school curriculum (I think I was around 13 or 14 years old) I could hardly relate. For me it was just another topic I just wanted to get it over with. A lot of appreciation that I have now for the poem developed during the time when I was trying to make it as a boxer (while still pursuing bachelor's in engineering) as an effort to try and prove to myself that I exist (which I later found that life is much more nuanced than simply winning a bout).

The poem is a dramatic monologue between a young man and the "psalmist". The young man is trying to contradict the psalmist by saying that life is much more that just numbers and figures. Throughout the monologue, the young man tries to argue against the biblical verse - "dust to dust".

The lines in this poem serve as a reminder that as humans the best we can do is focus on what is in present. We must be fearless in our approach while patiently pursuing our goals.