Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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What are the figures of speech used in the poem "Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?

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Jennings Williamson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the fourth stanza, the speaker says,

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.

Here, the heart is personified as possessing the qualities of determination and courage. Personification occurs when human characteristics and behaviors are attributed to nonhuman objects or entities. Then, hearts are compared, via a simile, to drums that keeps time for our funeral march to our deaths. A simile is a comparison of two unalike things using the word like or as.

The next stanza reads,

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!

The speaker uses a metaphor to compare the world to a field of battle. A metaphor is a comparison of two unalike things where the poet says that one thing is another. In the next line, life is compared, via a continuation of the same metaphor, to a temporary camp (like one set up by soldiers) that lacks tents or cover (so one is especially vulnerable). Another simile compares people to animals that simply follow without question, like cattle, as the speaker exhorts us not to be like cows, but rather to be heroes on the battlefield of life, to take charge of our own fates.

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kathik eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"The Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a poem which encourages its readers to live a good and moral life, so the title itself is an allusion to the psalms of the Bible. In the first line, that biblical allusion continues with "Tell me not, in mournful numbers..." alluding to the Bible's Book of Numbers.

From there, we find metaphors and personification. First, life is compared to an "empty dream" (a metaphor); and "For the soul is dead that slumbers" personifies the soul.

Parallelism comes to play in the second and final stanzas: "Life is real! Life is earnest!" And "Still achieving, still pursuing."

More metaphors, as well as similes, are found throughout the piece. Hearts are compared (simile) to drums in the fourth stanza, and people are compared (simile) to cattle in the fifth. "Art is long and Time is fleeting" is a metaphor.

Finally, this poem contains quite a bit of alliteration: "Find us further" is one example. "Dumb driven cattle" is another.

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