Central Idea

A Psalm of Life is a didactic poem of H.W.Longfellow. it was first published in 1839 in his book The Voices of the Night. Here he gives us an optimistic picture of life. Scholars and critics of different nationalities have agreed that life is a dream. Longfellow contradicts it. He says that life is real and death is not an end. The Bible says that we are made up of dust and return to dust. It is applicable only to our bodies as our soul is immortal. Joy or sorrow is not our destiny but we make our own destiny. We are the masters of our own action. Time is running out quickly and our life has limited time to prove that we are also a worthy asset to our nation and family. We ought to act like a hero. Past and future should not be our area of concern but we should live in present. Present moment is the most important moment of life. We should be strong at heart with faith in God. By following this we can make our life sublime. In first few lines the poet says that-

             “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.”

The poet means what he says and it should be understood that life is not an empty dream where you are supposed to sleep. It is full of action; we should not take things as for granted. Life is not merely numbers but it is action which makes this number great. This is one of the reasons that great men are immortal because of their deeds. So only body can die soul is remembered forever because of action which can be understood in the next few lines where the poet says that-

             “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.”

In these lines the poet makes it clear that life is not a dream but it is a reality.

Its goal is not limited up to grave because only body can die soul is immortal. Our body is made up of dust and it will return to dust but it is not applicable to our soul. In the next few lines poet says-

             “Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

               Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each to-morrow

              Find us farther than to-day.”

Through the above lines the poet emphasizes on the importance of action in life.  Life is not to be enjoyed or mourned but to act. We should live in present time and we should never waste our time because time is precious. Only time can buy action and action is life. Enjoyment and mourning is a part of life but people have made it synonyms of life.

Few Important Questions

  1. What according to Longfellow do the lives of great men remind?

Ans- The lives of great men remind us that we should face the struggle of life like heroes. We should have deep faith in God and strong courage in our hearts. We should go on doing our duties. Thus, we can also make our lives sublime. This is what the lives of great men remind us.

  • What according to Longfellow do great men leave behind them?

Ans- Great men say that life is real. The world is a battlefield. They fight in the battle like heroes. They have faith in God and courage in their hearts. They go on doing their duties. Thus, they achieve success in life. They become the guiding star of mankind.  They leave their footprints on the sands of time. We should follow those footprints. Thus, we can also make our lives sublime.

  • What does the poet propose?

Ans- The poet proposes to be a hero in life. According to him man should neither waste his time repeating his past nor enjoy.