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What is the meaning of the line "Heart within, and God o’erhead!" from the poem "A...

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ssfunds | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted September 27, 2012 at 4:09 PM via web

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What is the meaning of the line "Heart within, and God o’erhead!" from the poem "A Psalm of Life" ?

The full poem here...

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 are, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find 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 sand 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. 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 27, 2012 at 5:20 PM (Answer #1)

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By the time the "young man" who is the narrator of the poem reaches this point in the conversation with the "psalmist," he has already established his basic argument. The point of the poem is to demonstrate that life is not all gloom and doom, that it is not hopeless, with helpless humans trapped in an existence that is beyond their control.

Instead, the young man contends that the goal of life is "to act, that each tomorrow find us further than today." He acknowledges that death awaits us all - "funeral marches to the grave" - but rebels against the idea of conceding the inevitability and doing nothing because of it. "Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!"

The stanza containing your quote summarizes the entire poem. Don't look ahead, with worry or anticipation, to the future; don't fret and worry over the past; live fully in the moment, keeping faith in your personal efforts and your God.

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!

 

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