A Psalm of Life :What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

Let us, then, be up and doing,
     With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
     Learn to labor and to wait.

In 1842, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the didactic A Psalm of Life in order to inspire his readers to live actively, and neither to lament the past or take the future for granted. I feel that this is a very timely poem to consider today.

Longfellow was inspired to write A Psalm after hearing the lectures of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which helped him recover from the death of his first wife, Mary Potter; to have “a heart for any fate”.

A Psalm of Life has become one of the most quoted American poems with its famous line “Footprints on the sands of time”.

I have translated the poem to French to bring comfort to my readers in France, who have suffered greatly from the world pandemic of Coronavirus.

A Psalm of Life

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

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.

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!

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.

 MY FRENCH TRANSLATION

 Non, ne me dites point de votre voix dolente
     Que la vie est un songe vain.
Car l’âme qui sommeille est morte
     Et les choses ne sont pas, ce qu’elles semblent être.

 La vie est tangible ! La vie est sérieuse!
     Et la dirige n’est pas ses efforts
La terre, tu devras retourner en terre.
     N’a pas été parlé de l’âme.

 Pas de plaisir, et pas de chagrin,
     Non, tel n’est point notre destin,
Mais la vive action, pour chaque jour
     Trouvez-nous plus loin qu’aujourd’hui.

 L’œuvre de l’homme est lente, et le temps fuit si vite !
     Et nos cœurs, quoique solide et courageux,
 Pourtant, comme des tambours étouffés, sonne
      La marche du cercueil.

 Alerte ! Dans le vaste champ de bataille du monde,
     Au bivouac de La Vie,
Ne soyez pas obstiné !
     Plutôt, soyez un héros dans le conflit!

 De ton vague avenir, laisse au loin le mirage!
      Laissez le passé mort enterrer ses morts!
Agissez, – agissez dans Le Présent vivant!
     Cœur à l’intérieur, et espoir en Dieu!

 L’histoire de grands hommes nous rappelle tous
     Nous pouvons rendre nos vies sublimes,
Et, en partant, laisse-nous derrière
     Empreintes de pas sur les sables du temps;

 Des empreintes, peut-être, d’une autre âme
      Naviguer sur le solennel de la vie,
Un frère, désespéré et naufragé,
     Se sentira revivre en ses heures amères.

 Soyons donc prêts à agir,
     Avec un cœur pour tout destin;
Réalisant toujours, poursuivant toujours,
     Aimer, travailler et à attendre

 

Copyright 2020 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com).