Thursday, October 25, 2012

It's a New Day with Longfellow

"Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We only have today. Let us begin."
     -Mother Teresa

"A Psalm of Life"
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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 are, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

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 sand of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solenm 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.

     This poem by Longfellow is a true carpe diem poem. Its entirety is summed up in the sixth stanza, when Longfellow writes, "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!" In essence, Longfellow is arguing that one should forget the past and not focus on the future, but rather live in the "now". Seize the day, be present, and worry about only the things that can be controlled. Be happy with the opportunities that are presented, and make the most of every second. Life is only so long, so it might as well create unforgettable memories.

     Just before composing this particular poem, Longfellow was completing lectures on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German writer. He was very inspired by this particular man's life. Longfellow then had a heartfelt conversation with Cornelius Conway Felton, a close friend and Harvard professor. They discussed matters involving the soul and life's battles. The next day, Longfellow wrote this poem, "A Psalm of Life." Everyone has a point in their lifetime that causes them to take a moment to reflect and be grateful for everything they have. Whether it's an injury, a loss of a loved one, a close call or just a simple conversation, everyone experiences these moments. It's a moment of realization in which one can truly appreciate life. The poem was simply Longfellow's moment of realization.

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