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.

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

66 Comments

  1. RUSSEL KRIWANEK says:

    MY WIFE NOW DECREASED, USE TO QUOTE THE LAST VERSE OFTEN. I LOOKED THE LAST VERSE UP ON THE INTERNET AND GOT THE WHOLE POEM. I THINK MY WIFE IS TELLING ME SOMETHING. IT WAS VERY COMFORTING.

  2. claudia says:

    this poem tells me a lot about life,I am still young, but I have had the kind of feeling that life itself is really treasure.

  3. geamie benting says:

    this poem inspired me alot. It awakened my souland opened my eyes the reality of life as longfellow valued it. this poem serves as my guide as i have cross the path of life… very inspiring…

  4. s c tyagi says:

    this is the poem that has always inspired me and given me the true meaning of life .this poem crosses the boundries of languages and countries.It shows the power of words that express the time-winning thoughts. My deep regards to the immortal poet. suresh tyagi

  5. Graham Salisbury says:

    I was born 80 years ago into a devout christian family of chicken farmers. My dad had little formal education
    and his knowledge of life was amazing.He taught me the
    poem.Life is REAL. As I now help people in A.C.N.TO USE OUR
    Video Phones in REAL LIFE.You MAY SEND ME YOUR e’MAIL.

  6. akhtar says:

    it is a verygood poem i like it very much

  7. 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.

  8. 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
    I LOVE THIS COMMENT & IT IS SO TRUE. ALSO ONE THING ABOUT THIS POEM IS THAT IT IS SO STIRRING! AND IT HELPS ONE NOT TO HAVE MAUDLIN THOUGHTS ABOUT DEATH.
    AND, I LOVE YOU, “AMERICANPOEMS,” FOR HAVING THIS WEBSITE.
    MARILYN SLIWA

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

    thanks,

    Ahmad Shah

  11. 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!

  12. Ritesh says:

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

  13. 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!!!

  14. 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!

  15. Melanasi says:

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

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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…”

  24. 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

  25. 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.

  26. 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!

  27. Anonymous says:

    I read this poem last friday & I feel it’s a very powerful poem.After reading the poem I wondered that we have explored everything from the depths of the sea to the vast expanse of universe but have we ever tried to explore our true selves ,& the reason for being here, on this earth .The poem has really helped me to
    know myself better & has made me clear about my aim in life which is temporary like a vapor.I have learnt, that without caring how far we are from our goal, we should do our work so that everyday we are a step closer to our goal.It’s worth passing onto my sister!

  28. olukunle says:

    hi friends in the school of life, i found this poem a complete theology of life, i have read two stanza of the poem for more than five year coming accross it in a book, before i stumbled on the complete poem, it as become my anthem, i am memorising it line by line precept by precept i want it to be my guide and my generation cheers. this site is also a wonder it is great in deed

  29. Angela says:

    I was introduced to Longfellow (not in person, but in poetry) by a friend of mine and I am so thankful! I’ve memorized this poem and repeat it to myself often. It’s beautiful and optimistic and motivating! Definitely worth passing onto friends!

  30. Diogo Kobayashi says:

    this certainly a beatiful poem someday i will memorize by heart (not quickly since english isnt my mother tongue) and recite to some stranger passing by

    im very intersted in parody and what we call, at least here in brazil, antropofagism, making an intertextuality between authors.

    here´s one of psalm of Life:

    https://www.americanpoems.com/poets/Oliver-Wendell-Holmes/16642

    i want to know more english/american antropofagism, if you got more texts e-mail me the original and the “parody”´s title.

  31. Gards says:

    A Psalm of Life is one of the most beautiful poem i’ve ever read!It inspires me to go on with my miserable life… Thanks Longfelow!

  32. Auntie Joan says:

    I cry very very lots when i am reading dis poem. I cry like a little school girl whose boyfriend dumped her a prom. I also love to sit in de bath with candels burning and a ice cold bottle of grey goose and drink and read my sorrows away. Herny Longfellow was a close personal friend of my african american egyptian scottish polish mexican family. (we are mostly called the scum and “mutts” of the human races. We love henry and all he must stand for and we raise are solo cups to dat. So henry ain’t no holla back girl!!

  33. Darlene Schumacher says:

    I am a (young) grandmother and I never heard of this poem before last Sunday! I have a calendar with quotes in it and Sunday’s quote included the last lines of this poem. “Let us, then, be up and doing, with a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait. I liked it. I had heard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but not any part of this poem. I decided that the poem had a lot to say about doing, but it seemed to lack purpose. So I added my own lines to his. My version sounds like this:
    Let us, then, be up and doing, serving God alone,
    With a heart for any fate; for He is on the throne!
    Still achieving, still pursuing, His glory world renowned,
    Learn to labor and to wait, for we are heaven bound!
    (for those who trust in Jesus Christ and His redeeming sacrifice) It was yesterday I decided to get on the internet and see if I could find the poem. I enjoyed the rest of it…it sounds like he may have been a believer too…

  34. cliff dunnegan says:

    i need the lines”miles and miles to go before i sleep”where is this located in longfellow poetry?tks

  35. Rubina Shah says:

    I shall be thankful if somebody paraphrase the poem A PSALM OF LIFE for me. Please send the paraphrase to me on my email—–rubinashah@gmail.com—–thanks.
    bye

  36. Dr. A. K. Saxena says:

    A Psalm of Life is one of the most impressive poems giving the message of ‘love for life’. The beauty of the poem lies in the simple fact that it teaches us to dream and prepares us to pay the price to make our dream come true.Hence, love your life, love your dream as well as love your dear ones ardently.

  37. Maureen says:

    When I first read this poem I felt inspired to do as the poem said, i.e. live life to the fullest. Upon the second reading I wondered, “Who is the young man?”; “Who is the psalmist?” In the Bible King David is known as the psalmist (read Psalms) and his son Solomon lived his life to the fullest. His experience is related in the the book of Ecclesiastes. I wonder if Longfellow had him in mind when he wrote this poem. The poem has youthful vigor but is somewhat naive. This is a young Solomon, energetic and optimistic; taking life on his own terms and eager to live it. He begins the poem by dismissing the wisdom that he might have received from the psalmist. Can “empty dream” simply be another way of saying “vanity”? Poetry is so rich. Longfellow was quite the artist…layers of meaning.

  38. leo says:

    This poem is from Longfellow’s inmost heart.It gave me deep reflection about my life,about what i want……If you also interesting in it please send me e-mail.

  39. Jodi Heavner says:

    I love this poem!! =) It inspires you to live your very best…but not without a reason!
    “Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
    Was not spoken of the soul.”
    God has given man a reason for living…and it is found clearly in the Bible.
    Longfellow understood this! He was an exceptional writer.

  40. Leann Reagan says:

    i very well think that i would love this poem if i could understand it!!!

  41. Rosano Zapanta says:

    I had never red a poem like this on my entire life. This poem has given me more ideas and suggestions on how to live a meaningful life.I hope everyone would read this poem because this is one of the best I ever read.

  42. Lani Hold says:

    Wow!! Talk about an inspirational poem. It just makes me want to get up and dance. It’s awesome! Longfellow was full of talent.

  43. Anne Nguyen says:

    When I was around the age 10, I had read “A Psalm of Life” in a book titled “What Your Sixth Grader Needs To Know” and at the time, I remember that the poem helped me see life in a new light. Although I hadn’t quite understood many of the phrases encompassed within the poem at that age, I soon became aware of the main idea of the poem, which is to live life to the fullest by the time I was in eight grade since I had to memorize the poem. Even now as I’m in high school, I still remember each line of the poem and I doubt that I would ever forget them. Despite having been introduced to the poem in a sixth grade book, I’m beginning to think that sixth graders in our modern society are not given the opportunity to enhance their knowledge by reading such prose poems as “A Psalm of Life” and its disappointing to see many high school students now not ever hearing about this particular poem during their years in school. Nevertheless, “A Psalm of Life” is a very moving poem and hopefully others feel the same way.

  44. Kathleen Ogden says:

    My grandmother awakened me every morning by quoting the final stanza of this poem. A couple of years after she died, I discovered where it came from when I was studying American poetry in college. It was a wonderful message to begin each day, and since then, I’ve passed on her & Longfellow’s positive outlook when I awakened our children, and now, on occasion, our grandchildren.

  45. Mary Ann Lunsford Bach says:

    The poem Psalm of Life was quoted to me by my late husband when we net and married in 1960. I am enclosing the poem as a memorial in my write up of my fifty years of being a graduate of Midway Junior College CLASS OF 1955 WHEN I attend Homecoming onJune 4th and 5th 2005. The poems says volumes of the life he lived and how he gave to the many people he served in the insurance businees,

  46. Kandyse says:

    The poem had a good meaning to it that connected to everyday life. I agree with most of the things stated in the poem. I think one of the most important statements in the poem was “Trust no future, how’er pleasant! Let the dead past bury it’s dead! Act-act in the leaving Present! Heart within and God o’er head!” If you live trying to fix your past, your future will never be right.

  47. Alexandria Williams says:

    Longfellow gives a great depiction of life and death through his intense phrases in, “A Psalm of Life”. It reveals the wonderful side of life whether you are living it or striving for it. This poem can be used as inspration to live life to the fullest and to not to let life pass you by.

  48. darryl says:

    The poem is alright with me because I believe in working hard and not sitting around and doing nothing and to be your self and work hard.

  49. Edmundo alatorre says:

    I think this poem is very good and it relates to me by, “Art is long and time is fleeting,” This means life is long but life goes by quickly.

  50. Jason Anthony says:

    A Psalm of Life
    “Trust no future, howe’er pleasant! Let the dead past bury it’s dead!” We read this in English class at Washington High School in Los Angeles. I actually think it’s an ok poem. To me the poems is saying how you should always look foward to the future but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good one. But you shouldn’t spend you life in the past or else it’ll pass you by,instead live it int he present.

  51. Elsi Reyes says:

    “A Psalm of Life” is a very interesting poem.It makes you think how life is, and how you can live your life without giving up on yourself.I think that life has a meaning for living and this poem is a reason to help others who are having problems and think there is no reason for living. “Not enjoyment, and sorrow, Is our destined end or, way; But to act that each to-morrow Finds us father than to-day.” Is the line that inspired me the most. It is talking about how life has sad and happy times but you just have to think about today.

  52. Jerrall Whitehead says:

    In the poem “A Psalm Of Life” it says, “trust no future how’er pleasant!/Let the past bury its dead!” This means live for the present. I can relate to this very well beacause a lot of bad things have happened to me, but I let the past live in the past and I live for the present and the future.

  53. Justin Sanders says:

    In this poem “A Psalm in Life” I found this quote to be quite moving: “Life is long but time is moving quickly.” It means that life is long but it passes by very quickly and by the time you decide to do anything about it, its almost over.

  54. Aaron English says:

    In the poem “A Psalm of Life,” it states, “Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal”… It means that life is precious and it is never to be wasted. You have to live everyday like its the last day and you can’t waste your life away. I found that interesting because that’s been my way since I can remember. That’s what I thrive on. I don’t waste time on foolishness neither do I allow others to waste my time. That’s why I found this poem interesting.

  55. Maria Peralta says:

    I thought this poem is good, great, awsome,ect. I like how Mr. Longfellow thinks or used to think . How he tells us that life is meaningless if we don’t do anything. I think people should read it and read it to their younger kids so that they can think about it.The quote I Iike best is “Trust no future,how e,er pleasant! Let the dead past burry its dead! Act-act in the living present! Heart within,and God o’erhead!” I like it because it’s telling us to worry about today and not about past.To just think of what are your goals for today and not tommorrow, and thats how I think. That’s what I tell my sister.

  56. Jesus Garcia says:

    In the poem it said that, “Art is long and time is fleeting.” I think this means that life is long and life goes quickly. What this means in my life is that I remember when I road my first bike when I was about 4 or 5 years old . It seemed like if it was just yesterday. In the poem it said that time goes fast.

  57. Leyla Rodriguez says:

    I really liked this poem because it talks about how you should live your life to the fullest. I belive that you should work hard so you can do or get everything you want to. I liked when he said that you should live your life in the present and forget about the past. I think that everybody should live everyday like it was there last.

  58. Jonathan says:

    This poem actually makes a lot of sense. It describes the way we should all be living. The poem tells you to live in the moment and not the past. That’s actually good advice because you should never worry about something you did in the past and just live your life in the moment. It’s better than torturing yourself about a mistake you made in the past.

  59. Samuel Salgado says:

    Like all of my classmates, I read A Psalm of Life. “Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime.” This reminds me of Francisco “Pancho” Villa, a great man, especially for Mexico, and like the majority messages from the poem, he lived his life to the fullest because he knew that life is not meaningless. Francisco “Pancho” Villa is some one I look up to, and I hope that one day some one will look up to me the way I look up to him.

  60. Sonali says:

    We had this poem for studying as a part of our curriculum in India. Since then it has been my favorite. Have quoted few verses of these off and on.. Is a wonderful poem to read and think during one of the poignant moments. Gave back my mental peace.. Somehow relives the zest for life in me..Will always be my favorite..specially the footprints verse.

  61. Mas Odoi says:

    Four poetic works, which I memorized as guide and inspiration to happy, creative living.
    –The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-16), King James Version I rewrote in poetic spacing. The punch line is verse
    16, “Let your light shine before men . . .”
    –“If” by Rudyard Kipling.
    –“The Chambered Nautilus” by Oliver Wendel Holmes.
    –“A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
    I don’t know any other short poetic works that inspire me more to live the GOOD LIFE.
    An 80 yr. old vet of WW II

  62. mansi says:

    this is the poem which can change the way we live,
    the lines which leave an ever ending impression on us ,
    is “trust no future however plesant,
    ——————————-
    ——————————
    ———god over head.
    want very one to follow that

  63. Bill Statum says:

    Like many of my contemporaries who attended high school in the 40’s and 50’s, I was required to memorize many poems. A Psalm of Life was one of those. At the time, I did not fuly appreciate the poem – what teen age boy did – but in later years came to thoroghly enjoy reciting it to anyone who might be interested in hearing it. It is my hope that we all can leave “footprints on the sands of Time” that will in some small way, help another human being find his/her way through life.

  64. amy says:

    I think this poem is very great and interesting to read but this poem was very religious so it isn’t more wellknown like Alex says becouse only some people knows about bible and interested about bible.But i just can say that this poem is very interested.

  65. alan bonetti says:

    I ran across this poem many years (20?) ago and it immediately struck me as a description of exactly how I felt and how I still do feel about life, death and how we ought to approach them.
    It seems to me that we ought to live our lives to the best of our ability, enjoying everything, experiencing all , hurt nobody, help anybody we can whenever we can and wherever we can. And be very, very grateful each morning that we wake up and are given the privelege to enjoy another day on this beautiful planet. I sincerely hope that we(6 billion of us?!)haven’t wrecked the planet beyond it’s ability to heal.
    Think about it…
    Al

  66. Alex Benson says:

    This poem is great, I really enjoy Longfellow’s poetry. It has a really good message as well; it’s too bad this poem isn’t more well known.

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