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A Psalm of Life


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, "A Psalm of Life" consists of 28 lines which relates to the topic, "Life." It has a bitter, cold, despairing, detached, dramatic, somber, and sullen tone, set in a minor scheme. Depressing vocabulary usage of the poet is extensive, and such examples include ‘mournful,’ ‘empty,’ ‘dead,’ ‘grave,’ ‘sorrow,’ ‘end,’ ‘fleeting,’ ‘funeral,’ ‘battle,’ ‘bivouac,’ ‘dumb,’ ‘sublime,’ ‘departing,’ ‘leave behind,’ ‘solemn,’ and ‘fate’.

The point of view is in ‘the heart of the young man,’ of whom is probably a sailor. In this poem, the young man is giving the psalmist advice on how to live their life.

Mr. Longfellow has ways of bringing out his ideas. He does this by incorporating poetic devices to emphasize his ideas. This poem consists of nine stanzas of 4 lines each. End rhyme is used throughout, as the rhyming scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH IJIJ KLKL MNMN OPOP QRQR. A religious allusion has been made when "tell me not, in mournful numbers," as numbers refer to the chapters and sections of the Bible. By using paradox, the young man states that "life is but an empty dream!", but something much more vast. "And things are not what they seem" is based on the theme of appearance versus reality. Personification and metaphor, was used as well, as "was not spoken of the soul." Repetition is used in line 23, "act,--act…" Euphony, as well as alliteration, was used in the single phrase "sailing o’er life’s solemn main..." Other examples of alliteration include "…the grave is not its goal;" and "learn to labor and to wait." Parallelism was also used when the speaker says that "life is real! [and] life is earnest!" and "still achieving, still pursuing." All of stanza 4 ("not enjoyment, and not sorrow, / is our destined end or way; / but to act, that each to-morrow / find us farther than to-day") is saying even if it is good or bad, the end of life is inevitable. Everyday afterwards, would be brand new and more understanding than today, like "but to act, that each to-morrow / find us farther than to-day." Personification is used in "art is long," and "time is fleeting" is a metaphor. "…our hearts…like muffled drums…" is an example of simile. After passing away, there is an afterlife, as "a funeral marches to the grave." since the heart of the soul will still be beating "like muffled drums." The fifth stanza commands the reader to "be not like dumb, driven cattle! / be a hero in the strife!" It urges the reader to find their own path and not fall into the crowd of people of generality; try to become a hero and be unique. "Let the dead past bury its dead" is an allusion, as it is making a reference to the Bible, and God will always be here to protect us, since the "heart within, and God o’erhead!" The next stanza is telling the reader to not be intimidated or discouraged by famous people, or the "lives of great men" have lived, and are living. Every human being is capable of causing immense change to the world. We know this because we can all leave our mark in history, like "footprints on the sands of time." Moreover, your mark in time will became an inspiration for the others that follow, since he/she can see your footprints and will be guided by it, like "seeing, shall take heart again."

At the end, the author is telling the reader to prepare for anything that may come about, and to never give up; be relentless in achieving your goal, but at the same time, learn to be patient, as to "learn to labor and to wait."