A Psalm of Life Questions and Answers
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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What is the meaning of the title of the poem "A Psalm of Life"? How can this poem help you go through a difficult period in your life?

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A psalm is a sacred song and Longfellow's poem "A Psalm of Life" treats life itself as the sacred object. The subtitle of the poem is "What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist," and the poet explicitly takes issue with the message and attitude of the psalms in the Bible, which the poet seems to regard as psalms of death. The psalms say that life is a mere prelude to death, "an empty dream" compared with the eternal life that is to come. They are distinctly mournful and emphasize mankind's reliance on God. "A Psalm of Life" stresses the value of life and preaches active heroism.

Whether or not this poem helps you through difficult periods in your life is very much a matter of personal taste. According to one story, quoted by Longfellow scholar Kirsten Silva Gruesz, at least one man approached Longfellow and thanked the poet for writing the poem that saved him from suicide. One of the poem's major themes is that we die soon enough anyway. Perhaps the most frequently quoted verse points out:

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.
This may inspire the reader not to waste time. If you are ever going to make your mark on the world, you must do it now. The notion of transforming your life into something "sublime" is also a powerful one for many people. Others, however, may simply find the relentless cheerful exhortation of the piece rather exhausting.

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