A Psalm of Life
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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
Finds 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.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) was an American poet and educator.
John James Ingalls
Master of human destinies am I;
Fame, love and fortune on my footsteps wait.
Cities and fields I walk. I penetrate
Deserts and seas remote, and, passing by
Hovel and mart and palace, soon or late,
I knock unbidden once at every gate.
If sleeping, wake; if feasting, rise, before
I turn away. It is the hour of fate,
And they who follow me reach every state
Mortals desire, and conquer every foe
Save death; but those who hesitate
Condemned to failure, penury and woe,
Seek me in vain, and uselessly implore.
I answer not, and I return no more.
John James Ingalls (1833–1900) was an American politician and abolitionist who worked to make Kansas a free state.
To His Coy Mistress
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart;
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
Andrew Marvell (1621–1678) was an English poet, satirist, and politician.
Edward Rowland Sill
This I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream:—
There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;
And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged
A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords
Shocked upon swords and shields. A prince’s banner
Wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.
A craven hung along the battle’s edge,
And thought, “Had I a sword of keener steel—
That blue blade that the king’s son bears,—but this
Blunt thing—!” he snapped and flung it from his hand,
And lowering crept away and left the field.
Then came the king’s son, wounded, sore bestead,
And weaponless, and saw the broken sword,
Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,
And ran and snatched it, and with battle shout
Lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down,
And saved a great cause that heroic day.
Edward Rowland Sill (1841–1887) was an American poet and educator.
Let Us Live and Love
Gaius Valerius Catullus
My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love;
And though the sager sort our deeds reprove,
Let us not weigh them. Heaven’s great lamps do dive
Into their west, and straight again revive;
But, soon as once set is our little light,
Then must we sleep one ever-during night.
If all would lead their lives in love like me,
Then bloody swords and armor should not be;
No drum nor trumpet peaceful sleeps should move,
Unless alarm came from camp of love.
But fools do live and waster their little light,
And seek with pain their ever-during night.
When timely death my life and fortune ends,
Let not my hearse be vexed with mourning friends;
But let all lovers rich in triumph come,
And with sweet pastime grace my happy tomb.
And, Lesbia, close up thou my little light,
And crown with love by ever-during night.
Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca. 84–85 BC) was a Latin poet of the late Roman Republic. (Poem translated by Thomas Campion in 1601.)
Life, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall?
Life’s sunny hours flit by,
Enjoy them as they fly!
What though Death at times steps in,
And calls our Best away?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O’er hope, a heavy sway?
Yet Hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!
Charlotte Brontë (1816–1855) was an English writer and poet, best known for her novel Jane Eyre.
Do It Now
If with pleasure you are viewing any work a man is doing,
If you like him or you love him, tell him now;
Don’t withhold your approbation till the parson makes oration
And he lies with snowy lilies on his brow;
No matter how you shout it he won’t really care about it;
He won’t know how many teardrops you have shed;
If you think some praise is due him now’s the time to slip it to him,
For he cannot read his tombstone when he’s dead.
More than fame and more than money is the comment kind and sunny
And the hearty, warm approval of a friend.
For it gives to life a savor, and it makes you stronger, braver,
And it gives you heart and spirit to the end;
If he earns your praise—bestow it; if you like him let him know it;
Let the words of true encouragement be said;
Do not wait till life is over and he’s underneath the clover,
For he cannot read his tombstone when he’s dead.
Berton Braley (1882–1966) was an American poet.