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. 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!

  2. 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

  3. 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!

  4. 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:


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

  5. 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!

  6. 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!!

  7. 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…

  8. cliff dunnegan says:

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

  9. 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—–[email protected]—–thanks.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. Leann Reagan says:

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

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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,

  20. 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.

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