A Psalm of Life "Footprints On The Sands Of Time"

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Footprints On The Sands Of Time"

Context: This nineteenth century poem is in striking contrast to much of the defeatist, pessimistic verse of the twentieth century. Its highly optimistic message is that this is a real world in which we live and that we lose it if we spend our time in vain repinings about what might have been or wishful thinking of what may be in the future. We are living in the here and now, and our duty to ourselves is to live each day so fully that we accomplish something that will leave an imprint on the world. We should not merely endure life until death releases us so that we can go to our graves. There is so much to do in the world, and we individually have so little time in which to do it, that we should act in such a manner as to accomplish something worthy every day. The lives of the great should inspire us to such a degree that we ought to make the effort to leave our mark on the world, a mark which may in the future encourage someone else to great achievement. The whole idea of the poem, that here is a world in which we can do fine things if only we put our whole souls into the effort, is, of course, utterly abhorrent to twentieth century paternalism.

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 sands 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.