Guest poem sent in by Sally
(Poem #888) A Psalm of Life
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.
Thank you for choosing a poem with the terrorist attacks in mind. I live in Washington, DC, and have been getting first hand reports from a niece who lives in downtown NY in an apartment that had a view of the World Trade Center. However, I think almost all Americans have felt personally affected by this tragedy. I'm sure I'm not the only one of your subscribers who has been looking for poetry that speaks to us at this time. I hope others will send you their suggestions. Regarding "Beat! Beat! Drums!" I agree with your comments that the poem describes how an idea -- a Cause -- can grip a people. It does occur to me that the Cause in the case of Whitman's war was ending slavery, a Cause worth fighting a war if there ever was one. There is real irony in the fact that his poem just as effectively portrays less worthy Causes. As I looked through my various poetry books, I found myself coming back to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's A Psalm of Life. Here in America, one has to be struck by the way Americans have risen to the occasion: fire and rescue workers giving their lives trying to save others; people carrying others down 70 flights of stairs; thousands of people lining up to donate blood. I think the Longfellow poem speaks to that sort of spirit. A note in my book says that, "significantly, [Longfellow] referred to it variously as both a psalm of life and a psalm of death." Sally