A Psalm of Life

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was “one of theFireside Poets,” who wrote lyrical poems about history, mythology, and legend that were popular and widely translated in the 19th Century, making him the most famous American of his day.” (Quote source here.) He was also a professor at Harvard, and a fascinating short biography titled, The many lives of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,” can be read at this link.

The quote in the image above (for those who might not be able to view the image) states, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. To phrase it in today’s vernacular since in his time (19th Century) “man” meant all human beings, we could extract that one word to include everyone in today’s language–“we should find in each life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

How often do we think about our enemies in that manner? More often then not, we don’t. But think about the hostility going on around the world today and in our own daily lives, and what it would be like if we could disarm big chunks of it, or even just a small chunk would be a start. For example, being kind instead of mean–that’s a good start.

One of the poems that Longfellow is famous for is titled, A Psalm of Life.” This poem “carries a message of hope and encouragement. It encourages people to live their lives to the fullest, using the short time we have here on Earth as a gift. The poem is a message to future generations to find work and action that gives them purpose and passion.” (Quote source here.) Here is that poem:

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 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 tomorrow
Finds 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 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.
(Quote source here.)

In a reflection on this poem published on February 19, 2013, titled, A Psalm of Life: My Reflection,” by Don Meyer, Ph.D., (retired) President of the University of Valley Forge (formerly Valley Forge Christian College), he writes the following regarding stanza seven in the poem (click here to read his entire reflection from the beginning):

My favorite stanza is number 7. It is perhaps the most quoted from this entire poem: “Lives of great men all remind us; We can make our lives sublime. And, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.” Around us are countless examples of men and women who refuse to let life beat them down. Through the most horrific circumstances, they refuse to surrender their resolve. 

Malala Yonsufazai is someone like that. On October 9, 2012 this little 15-year-old Pakistani girl on her way home from school was shot by two Pakistani Taliban men once in the head and once in the neck as she got off her school bus.

In 2008, the Taliban decided to prohibit girls in her area to acquire an education. With her father’s permission, she began a blog under a different name. But when her father nominated her for a peace prize in 2009, Malala’s identity was revealed. The Taliban went on a rampage destroying hundreds of schools with the leader denouncing education for girls. In spite of that, Malala’s never wavered in her belief that girls had a right to an education.

In spite of early ominous reports, it appears she will make a full recovery [reminder–this article was published in 2013]. Who can hear that story without being inspired? Millions around the world see her footprints on the sands of time. [Malala’s website is available here: “Malala’s Story.”]

Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, Billy Graham, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa and so many more have made footprints for us. Longfellow also knew the responsibility we have to leave footprints of our own. He calls for a kind of bifocal vision—before and behind—if we are to live life with meaning. 

With boldness he ends his poem: “Let us, then be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.” We must not sit on the sidelines. We must not slumber. We must not stop.

We must be up! We must be doing! We must have heart! We must achieve! We must pursue! We must be up and doing in the workplace! We must be up and doing in our homes!  We must be up and doing in our communities! With a heart for any fate, we must be up and doing! 

We must!

Think about it. (Quote source here.)

The Apostle Paul stated something similar in Philippians 3:13-14 when he stated:

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

In an article published on May 6, 2021, titled, Philippians 3:13-14: Forgetting What Is Behind,” by Mary Fairchild, Christian minister, writer, and editor, she writes:

In Philippians 3:13-14, the Apostle Paul is laser-focused on the race, the goal, and the finish line of his journey of faith. Like an Olympian runner, he does not turn back to dwell on his failures. Forgetting what is behind, Paul looks forward resolutely toward the final victory lap when he will see the face of Jesus Christ

Now, remember, Paul is Saul, the man who persecuted the church violently. He played a part in the stoning of Stephen, and he could have let guilt and shame cripple him for that. But Paul forgot what was in the past. He didn’t let it haunt him or trip him up in the present.

Neither did Paul dwell on his sufferings, beatings, shipwrecks, and imprisonment. He forgot the disappointments and challenges of rebellious church members, false teachers, and persecutions. Instead, he trained his eyes on a vision of his Master welcoming him home to heaven saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your reward!” (Matthew 25:21). (Quote source and complete article here. Citation: Fairchild, Mary. “Philippians 3:13-14: Forgetting What Is Behind.” Learn Religions, May. 6, 2021, learnreligions.com/forget-the-past-and-press-on-philippians-313-14-701886.)

Inspiring, isn’t it? In one of the parables taught by Jesus found in Luke 18:1-8, which is often referred to as The Parable of the Persistent Widow,” he opens that parable by telling his disciples “that they should always pray and not give up” (you can read this parable at this link, and read the meaning of this parable at this link). And later after Jesus had risen from the dead, he gave them what is known as The Great Commission,” found in Matthew 28:16-20, and he ended it with these words to remind them (and us, which will be the last words of this post) of his continual presence in our lives: And surely…

I am with you always . . .

To the very end . . .

Of the age . . . .

YouTube Video: “Help Is On The Way” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here


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