A Psalm of Life


"A Psalm of Life" became a popular and oft-quoted poem, such that Longfellow biographer Charles Calhoun noted it had risen beyond being a poem and into a cultural artifact. Among its many quoted lines are "footprints on the sands of time".[3] In 1850, Longfellow recorded in his journal of his delight upon hearing it quoted by a minister in a sermon, though he was disappointed when no member of the congregation could identify the source.[1] Not long after Longfellow's death, biographer Eric S. Robertson noted, "The 'Psalm of Life,' great poem or not, went straight to the hearts of the people, and found an echoing shout in their midst. From the American pulpits, right and left, preachers talked to the people about it, and it came to be sung as a hymn in churches."[16] The poem was widely translated into a variety of languages, including Sanskrit.[1] Joseph Massel translated the poem, as well as others from Longfellow's later collection Tales of a Wayside Inn, into Hebrew.[17]

Calhoun also notes that "A Psalm of Life" has become one of the most frequently memorized and most ridiculed of English poems, with an ending reflecting "Victorian cheeriness at its worst".[3] Modern critics have dismissed its "sugar-coated pill" promoting a false sense of security.[13] One story has it that a man once approached Longfellow and told him that a worn, hand-written copy of "A Psalm of Life" saved him from suicide.[18] Nevertheless, Longfellow scholar Robert L. Gale referred to "A Psalm of Life" as "the most popular poem ever written in English".[1] Edwin Arlington Robinson, an admirer of Longfellow's, likely was referring to this poem in his "Ballade by the Fire" with his line, "Be up, my soul".[19] Despite Longfellow's dwindling reputation among modern readers and critics, "A Psalm of Life" remains one of the few of his poems still anthologized.[20]

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