Morituri Salutamus "Nothing Is Too Late Till The Tired Heart Shall Cease To Palpitate"

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Nothing Is Too Late Till The Tired Heart Shall Cease To Palpitate"

Context: Longfellow took the title of this poem, written for the fiftieth anniversary reunion of the class of 1825 of Bowdoin College, from the salute of the doomed gladiators to the Roman emperor: "O Caesar, we who are about to die salute you!" He salutes the halls of the school, the deceased teachers who had inspired him and his classmates ("Peace be to them; eternal peace and rest. . . ."), the younger generation ("All possibilities are in its hands. . . ."), and his classmates: "This throng of faces turned to meet my own,/ Friendly and fair, and yet to me unknown. . . . Vanish the rolling mists of fifty years. . . . Hail, my companions, comrades, classmates, friends!" The poet is afraid to open the "volume" of the past, so full of tragedy and comedy. He tells a tale to uplift the spirits of the aged throng, a tale from the Gesta Romanorum called "Of Remembering Death and Forgetting Things Temporal." The story concerns a scholar who is tempted to leave his books and seek worldly riches. The poet tells this didactic tale because even an old man can repent, improve, and achieve. "Old age is still old age," but "The night hath not yet come. . . . Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear. . . . And as the evening twilight fades away/ The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day":

But why, you ask me, should this tale be told
To men grown old, or who are growing old?
It is too late! Ah, nothing is too late
Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.
Cato learned Greek at eighty; Sophocles
Wrote his grand Oedipus, and Simonides
Bore off the prize of verse from his compeers,
When each had numbered more than four-score years,
And Theophrastus, at fourscore and ten,
Had but begun his "Characters of Men."