Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Voices of the Night

A Psalm of Life

  • What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist
  • Mr. Longfellow said of this poem: “I kept it some time in manuscript, unwilling to show it to any one, it being a voice from my inmost heart, at a time when I was rallying from depression.” Before it was published in the Knickerbocker Magazine, October, 1838, it was read by the poet to his college class at the close of a lecture on Goethe. Its title, though used now exclusively for this poem, was originally, in the poet’s mind, a generic one. He notes from time to time that he has written a psalm, a psalm of death, or another psalm of life. The “psalmist” is thus the poet himself. When printed in the Knickerbocker it bore as a motto the lines from Crashaw:—
  • Life that shall send
  • A challenge to its end,
  • And when it comes say, Welcome, friend.

  • 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.