Psalm of Life-Mentored by My Dad Through Longfellow

During my devotional prayer time this morning I was reminded of a lengthy poem my Dad taught me to memorize when I was in high school—”A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In fact, when he was a substitute teacher, his favorite form of discipline (although I am not sure of its effectiveness) was to require a wayward student to write out this poem by hand. Although I have forgotten parts of it, much of the poem remains etched indelibly in my brain more than 50 years later.

My father was far from perfect and we had our issues with each other from time to time, not only as a teenager, but throughout life. Yet I am grateful that one act of engraving the words of this poem in my memory has impacted my worldview and way of life ever since. May these words and thoughts be imprinted in your memory as well. I encourage you to ponder each line and become your philosophy of life:

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.


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