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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem A Psalm of Life


  1. Nan Smith says:

    My father (born in 1912) memorized this poem in school (High School of Charleston) and would often quote from it while I was growing up. The day after he passed away I read the poem in its entirety and it spoke volumes to my heart and helped me to feel closer to him. The words have brought me comfort and encouragement many times. I am now 61 years old and this poem still rings so true to my heart. I memorized the entire poem after my father died.

  2. Marilyn Sliwa says:

    Comment 61 “I am nearing 70 and still in awe of the ability of many in his
    generation to quote long, noble poems. It is a great loss to society that
    schools no longer require memorization of such poems.”
    Esther Smith Holmes

  3. Sally says:

    My mother’s father quoted this poem to her very frequently back in the 1920’s. My mother quoted this poem to her three daughters frequently throughout the years. I (being one of the 3 daughters)will always hold dear this poem in my heart. Fortunately, I still am able to hear my mother’s sweet voice quoting Longfellow! Longfellow’s works are so truly amazing and will continue to live long through the ages!

  4. Ahmad Shah says:

    Dear sir, I hope that you are OK and doing well. My name is Ahmad Shah student of English Literature at Nangarhar University, I would like to request a good paraphrase of this poem ( A Psalm of Life ). i know that i have to write only comment, but as i need it’s paraphrase due to exams – kindly send me it via e-mail.


    Ahmad Shah

  5. Purushottam Vishnu Namjoshi says:

    This poem has been inspiring me from my childhood and now about 66 years of old. I cannot just forget it. think of the philosophy of it .It is like Indian Geeta’s philosophy. Co not go by the words used but go by the spirit of the poet. The message is pure and simple. Consider the 200 years old English and the age of the writer. He was great philosopher. Hats off!

  6. Ritesh says:

    It is the poem related to everyone’s life. Excellent and it is an immortal poem ever in the literature…

  7. cheche says:

    its really nice that i can read this poem…
    i really love this poem and all the literature works like this…
    bravo literature!!!

  8. Conrad Kunkel says:

    This poem is quoted to good effect by P.G. Wodehouse in his novel, “The Girl on the Boat.” If you are of a mind to enjoy this poem, and are not yet familiar with Wodehouse, than you are in for a treat!

  9. Melanasi says:

    This poen is spectaculous 2 the MAXX! I am so luvvin this Poetic sum of inspiring syllables.

  10. ben ben says:

    This poem is a very spectacular and very touching poem. It will grab your attention so rapidly and have you in tears by the time you finish. I encourage anybody to read this poem.

  11. Bonnie Snow says:

    My 98 year old Mother recites parts of this poem frequently. It is something she learned in school that she did for a program. She doesn’t always remember what she did yesterday but she always remembers this poem. I was thrilled when my daughter found it on the internet.

  12. sarah says:

    my boyfriend showed me this poem…we are kinda in a difficult time…hes going away to college in a few months maybe and ive been so worried about what will happen to us and he showed me this today and it has made me realize that i dont need to get in the dumps about it…i need to live life day by day and take it as it comes…and know that when he is gone…its not so much that he is gone its what he has left behind that has made all the difference and that will determine how far in life together we will go…this poem has really opened my eyes…i think everyone should read it…very much an eye opener!

  13. Vinita Sawyer says:

    I ready this poem and admittedly believe much is wasted on me — but it is beautiful and carries much meaning to me. To me it says, it is not the birth or death of a person that really matter, it is what you do with the time between the two events. It tells us to find our own path, to be an individual, to seek life and live it to the fullest. This poem is very spiritual to me and fits with anyone’s particular belief.

  14. Danielle says:

    I am writing an analytical essay on this poem. I have come to understand that what you see is not always what you get in a poem. I do love this poem and wish to learn more. If you can give me any insight on what you think it might mean please e-mail me danygrl87@aol.com thank you and I hope you all take this poem to heart…i think it has a beautiful meaning.

  15. stephanie says:

    This is a love peom. H Longfellow writes about life filled with love for others, have a optomistic view of life, hope and courage to leave this world a better place for our children.
    Read and memorized this poem in 6th grade and my teacher painstakenly explained /paraphased it for us. Never forgot it.

  16. artist123 says:

    Does this poem sound hollow to anyone else? I find it so. Though it seems like it’s trying to be inspiring, it doesn’t give a satisfactory reason to be ‘up and doing’. I’ve memorized this poem line for line and tried very hard to find a reason to life’s ‘why’ in it. What is life’s goal if it isn’t the grave? This poem leaves the answer obscure. What good does it do to not be ‘like dumb driven cattle’? And what really is the point of helping a ‘forlorn and shipwrecked sailor’? Personally I believe the reason this poem is uninspiring is because it leaves God out of the picture.

  17. Jennifer says:

    My daughter had to find a poem by a famous poet to memorize for her 8th grade literature class, and I suggested that she find a poem by Longfellow since we are from Maine. This is a great poem for a young person to know and to appreciate, it is an inspiration for me as well. “Be not like driven Cattle…”

  18. charlee says:

    this poem is inspiring and touching. i am studing this poem for a class prolect and i have yet to understand the meaning

  19. Francis H says:

    As a matter of fact, I memorised this beautiful poem by Longfellow when I was 14 (36 years ago to be exact). I must admit that I do forget some lines here and there but thank you, with modern technology we could now access to informative sites like this one. This is one poem that I was searching to share with my 3 wonderful children. A must read poem.

  20. nina and aria says:

    we are two high school student analyzing this poem for a project and it has touched us deeply. It is inspirational and should be read by people everywhere and of all ages. We are very glad we picked this poem. watch RENT!

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