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Agnieszka Janicka

Literatura Norteamericana II
Jefferey Simons
21.01.2015

Never say die Life is worth living

The topic for my critical essay is Syllabus Point 4. American Literature,1820-1865;


because it is a period of American Romanticism that I really admire. Within the Syllabus Point,
I have chosen the extract of The Psalm of Life (1838) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It is
the one of the most prominent poems of Henry Longfellow (1807 1882), who is
acknowledged as the most important American poet of that time. He had a broad education,
having spent several years living in Europe, partly in research for his post as professor at
Harvard, where he finally became head of the Modern Languages department (Howells 479).
The poem is marked by a freedom from the typical conventions, authority and forms. It
highlights individuality, placing it at the center of all life. The way Longfellow talks about the
significance of life, and living it, is so fascinating that it makes me want to read the poem many
times. In the present essay, I explore Longfellows vision of life and identify this is worth
living.
The poem is made up of nine quatrains, where eight syllable line follow seven syllable
line; rhyming ABAB. It is full of expressions of inspiration as well as stimulation. With regard
to the socio-cultural matrix, we live in a world that constantly changes, and we have to fight
against the flow to keep ourselves alive. The poet is very much centered on all his thoughts and
undoubtedly advising through his poem. Longfellow shows a different angle of life and says
how short life is and how to make it more meaningful. The writer himself has written this poem

at a fairly young age, and thus it is more accurate for all youthful audiences. This poem tells us
how to live life joyfully, without giving up to any of obstacle that can come across your way.
The author tries to make us aware that life is worth living and to convince us that it is worth
living fully, never saying die.
Longfellow sees life as a meaningful gift. Considering the first stanza, we can distinctly
notice that the author is very optimistic and believes that life is something special. In the first
and the second line Tell me not, in mournful numbers, / Life is but an empty dream! (ll.1-2),
the writer denies that life is an empty dream, he does not want to hear a regretful crying, the
one who sighs too much, who always complains and hates his life. He believes that and it is a
fantastic opportunity for every human being, who is able to make all his dreams come true.
In the second stanza, Longfellow points that life is not a game Life is real! Life is
earnest! (l. 5), so we should not trifle with it. The aim of life is not to die: the grave is not its
goal (l. 4), so we should work hard to achieve the meaningful things in life But to act, that
each tomorrow / Find us farther than today (ll. 11-12).
Regarding text-specific dynamics, in the fifth stanza of the poem, the words strife and
battle indicate the lexis of fight. Life is symbolized as a struggle, which implies that we have
to do something to survive. The line 17 In the worlds broad field of battle states that we have
to fight, in this always changing the world, to come through our life. Moreover, Be a hero in
strife! (l. 20) calls us to be courageous to face all difficulties that life brings. This poem
provides us with a new strength, an encouragement for those who are desperate. Be confident
and do not let others control your life Be not like dumb, driven cattle (l. 19), even if
sometimes life kicks you down, but your self-assurance will raise you. We need to constantly
prove that despite the many problems we tackle, we are not that easy to be defeated (ll. 19-20).
In the sixth stanza, Longfellow says: Trust no future (l. 21), and this means that not
always when you plan your future, it will work as smooth as you want. The author appeals to
us to stop thinking about our future because it may change anytime. Moreover, Let the dead
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Past bury its dead! (l. 22); it is better to forget about the past and focus on what you can do
today. Saying Act, act in the living Present! (l. 23) the author encourages us to work hard,
but also to do everything Heart within (l.24) and get pleasure from it. He claims that if we are
devoted to God the best things will follow us: God oerhead! (l.24). Put some effort and love
your work, as God has ordered us in Collosians 3: 23, Whatever you do, work at it with all
your heart.
Longfellow believes that many magnificent people arouse us in their life: Lives of
great men all remind us/ We can make our lives sublime (ll.25-26). Often those people come
from a bitter world, but those people devoted a lot of time to attain their success. Achievement
is a long process during which we may also fail, but we should keep on trying, and believe and
follow our dream in order to strive for its completion. Moreover, footprint is represented our
history in achieving a success: Footprints on the sands of time (l. 28). The life stories of great
men do not perish with time and continue to ring in all ages for all people. They bear the stamp
of success for all and become immortal in the history of mankind. We can defeat all problems
that emerge in our life. Additionally, according the penultimate stanza: Footprints, that
perhaps another,/ Sailing oer lifes solemn main,/ A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,/ Seeing,
shall take heart again. (ll. 29-32); what indicates that our history can inspire those who are
frustrated, anxious, so they can bounce back from life problems, can forget about their
sorrows.
Longfellow argues that life is worth living, and even when we feel down or desperate,
life is never flat. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we lose. But the poet advises us to not
give up, because everything does not look as we imagine. We have to keep on doing things and
stay strong, still focusing on our dream. According to Longfellow: Not enjoyment and not
sorrow/ Is our destined end or way (ll.9-10); the purpose of life is not about joy or grief , we
are the ones who choose our destiny, and all our actions decide our future: But to act, that each
tomorrow/ Find us farther than today (ll.11-12).
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The poem tells us to do something useful in life, to look for a target and to try to attain it
Still achieving, still pursuing,/ Learn to labor and to wait. (ll. 35-36). Longfellow assures us
that all we do will not become useless after our life. We cannot manage the length of our life,
but we can fill it with the significant content. In life, we should work hard and try to be better
than before, because at the end all our effort will be repaid. However, the writer emphasizes
that Time is fleeting(l.13) indicating that there is a lot of work to do in a short time. We have
to deal with the time to accomplish our created plans. In the fourth stanza, Longfellow in some
way compares a beating heart to hurtling time Time is fleeting,/ And our hearts, ,/ Still,
like muffled drums, are beating (ll.13-15). There is no time to waste, every second is
important in order to fulfill our life. We need to hurry up because time will not wait for us.
The poet is speaking in the first person point of view, where he is truthfully advising the
reader. It is obvious that A Psalm of Life is a well considered poem. Longfellow was young
when he wrote this poem, and it illustrates how good thoughts he was carrying at that age
(Thompson 270). This can certainly guide youth to look deeper at their life increase the
meaning and sense in it. He teaches us to have a thankful heart, to believe that life is a fantastic
gift, not a wasting period. He persuades us that everyone can do wonderful things because God
created us. We should focus on our dream, and not let it burn inside and never exist. It tells us
not to look back, though our past may have an impact on our present, but whether it will spoil
your future or not, everything depends on the person (ll.21-24). Life is symbolized as a fight
(ll.17-18). Work better, try harder, are the key components of being successful. All that we have
been through will motivate others (Hovey 5). Deep meaning is hidden inside in each word,
representing the magnitude of details in our short life. Whatever life brings, trust yourself that
you can handle it. Only if you never say die and try to get the most of this life we have been
given, you will be happy in your existence.

Works Cited
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Hovey, Kenneth. A Psalm of Life' Reconsidered: The Dialogue of Western Literature and
Monologue of Young America. American Transcendental Quarterly, new series 1. 1987, 3-19.

Howells, William D. The Art of Longfellow, North American Review, 1907. 472-485.

Longfellow, Henry W. A Psalm of Life, What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist.
Kessinger Publishing, 2009.

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Biblica, 1984. Collosians 3:23.
Thompson, Lawrance. Young Longfellow (18071843). New York: The Macmillan Company,
1938. 261-279.