Henry Wadsworth Longfellow begins his poem “A Psalm of Life” with the same exuberance and enthusiasm that continues through most of the poem. He begs in the first stanza to be told “not in mournful numbers” about life. He states here that life doesn’t abruptly end when one dies; rather, it extends into another after life. Longfellow values this dream of the afterlife immensely and seems to say that life can only be lived truly if one believes that the soul will continue to live long after the body dies.
The second stanza continues with the same belief in afterlife that is present in the first. Longfellow states this clearly when he writes, “And the grave is not its goal. ” Meaning that, life doesn’t end for people simply because they die; there is always something more to be hopeful and optimistic for. Longfellow begins discussing how humans must live their lives in constant anticipation for the next day under the belief that it will be better than each day before it: “But to act that each to-morrow / Find us farther than to-day. The form of the poem is very basic. Each stanza is four lines long, making the poem a quatrain, and the rhyme scheme follows the pattern “ABAB, CDCD, EFEF… ” etc. for each of the nine stanzas.
Each stanza also has a recurrent rhythm pattern: 8 syllables, 7 syllables, 8 syllables, 7 syllables. He believes that people should lead heroic and courageous lives and not sit idle and remain ineffectual while the world rapidly changes around them: “Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife! His use of the word “strife” is especially interesting, since it clearly acknowledges that life is inherently difficult, is a constant struggle, and will never be easy. Longfellow then encourages everyone to have faith and trust the lord and not to rely on an unknown future to be stable and supportive. He advises people to seize the moments they have before them and act while thinking about their present situations. Longfellow continues his poem by citing the lives of great and important men who were able to lead incredible lives and leave their marks.
He views these men as role models for people who have yet to live their lives; Longfellow encourages his readers to leave their own “footprints on the sands of time” and become important. The next stanza, the second to last in the poem, continues with this same point. It describes how successful people in the past have their lives copied, while those who failed serve as examples of ways of life to avoid. The final lines of the poem echo the beginning ones and offer perhaps the most important advice in a poem that is chocked full of it.
Longfellow encourages all to work and try their hardest to make their lives great and accomplish as much as they can. Longfellow conveys his message the same way he did in the rest of the poem: by speaking directly to the reader and providing his reasoning for believing in something more, in something better. Longfellow ensures his followers that the rewards for what they achieve will come eventually-if not in this lifetime, then certainly in the next.