Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a renowned poet, during the 1800’s. One of Longfellow’s most famous poems was, The Psalm of Life. This poem is very inspiring, and relatable to the general public. The way Longfellow talks about the importance of life, and living it to the fullest, makes you want to read the poem over and over again. This poem will be broken down one stanza at a time, to help the reader get a better understanding of the true meaning of this moving poem.
The first stanza of The Psalm of Life, Longfellow describes that “Life is but an empty dream!”(line 2). What he is trying to say is that life is short, and too many times, we as a society, live our daily lives in routine, and do not live life to the fullest. The second stanza has the same general idea as the first. In line 6, Longfellow says “And the grave is not its goal” , which simply means, we need to live for the afterlife, and enjoy the life we have, because we can lose it, as fast as a blink of an eye.
Lines 11 and 12 in the third stanza say, “ But to act, that each to-morrow Find us farther than to-day.” What these two lines are saying is that, we need not take one day for granted, and tomorrow live life fuller and cherish it more than the day before. The fourth stanza is hinting around the fact that life is short, and although people and loved ones may die around us, but our hearts are still beating, and we still have our life to live.
The fifth stanza has a slight change in topic, in which Longfellow relates the world to a “broad field of battle”, and our Life to a bivouac, which is another word for an encampment. He also says at the end of the fifth stanza to be a “hero in the strife!” The basic meaning of this quote is: don’t live in fear and sit in the background in life but rather stand up and live your life like there is no tomorrow, because there will be, either on this world, or in the afterlife. Stanza 6, is a very powerful stanza, where Longfellow says to not live in the past or in the future, but to act for today. Every day we are given is a gift, and by not taking chances, and living it to the max, we are throwing away a gift. In line 24, Longfellow states that God is overhead of us and we should not live in fear.
Stanza number seven is very memorable and is a great life lesson for all of its readers.
The stanza says, “Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;”
These four touching lines, resemble the ideas of many poets, and many enthusiastic men and women in power that have said that, what we do in this life, will have an effect on people in the future; could be one person, or could be millions. Longfellow says that we should look at the great men before us as an example to how we should leave a mark on history, because someone’s always watching us, and one good decision or one bad mistake, can be imprinted on the sands of time, for eternity. This is a great lesson to learn, so our children and our children’s children, can look up to the life that we lived and strive to do the same, with no regrets, because we learn from our mistakes.
The eighth stanza is explaining how the “footsteps” that we leave behind in the sands of time, are seen and studied by people who don’t live life to the fullest. Our footsteps should be a lesson to others that life is only as good as we make it. No one should live with regrets that they didn’t go the extra yard, or didn’t do something that they normally wouldn’t do, because we do only have one life to live, so live it up.
The final stanza of this touching poem, is a great ending with instructions on how we can live for today, and live like there is an afterlife. Longfellow writes, “Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.” The way he basically says, no matter what the cost, no matter what the outcome, we need to learn from others, how to leave our own footsteps in the “sands of time” to pass down through generations, so we can all live life fully and live life like today is our last day, and to be happy because there is life either here on earth, or in a afterlife.
The Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, will be a poem remembered and recited for many years to come. Longfellow has taken life experiences and explained how we need to live everyday like there is no tomorrow. We can all apply the lesson from this poem in different aspects of our daily lives, in everything we do. He also teaches us to not be sad for those who have passed away, because they are living life to the fullest in the afterlife. In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Act,--act in the living present!”