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 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. 

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I never realised it but School (Yes, “School”) has taught me a lot, as evident from my selection of poetry. Comprehending a poem is the greatest challenge a Literature student faces but the best part is that you can take away what you truly feel from the poem without offending the poet. I am sure that they would be more than thrilled in their graves to see new interpretations given to words written by them ages ago or be proud of themselves for inspiring someone new everyday with their words. Equally there are cases, such as that of my erstwhile English Teacher in Law School who had taken it on herself with all her might, ‘might I add’ of teaching poetry, particularly, ‘Ode to the West Wind’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley. What made this task Herculean was the fact that here was someone who didn’t feel the words of the poem, much less understand them. This is not to, in any way, dispute her qualifications. I am sure, she was qualified but my-oh-my, Shelley must have cringed, cried, tossed and turned in his grave.

The best part about this poem by Longfellow is that every line is something you want to take away and he has rightly titled it ‘The Psalm of Life’. I might be coming across as a pseudo-intellectual who “feels” poetry but there is just something so beautiful about English and words and words strung together into a sentence, and into a phrase, and into a stanza, and into a paragraph… that fills one’s heart with pure joy. (an extremely circuitous / long sentence)

On a totally different tangent, the human mind is indeed beautiful. For some, we choose to remember only that which was hurtful, for others, that which was less hurtful. The best part which we need to realise is that when the hour is rung, the only part which we remember is the best, not the good, but the best. If only we did the same when we had all of that 60 minutes and more.


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