Advisor - Mrs. Foran

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Art in the Eyes of Longfellow: Poem Interpretation by Crystal Zettwoch

Many people know the famous Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for his beautifully composed poems and pieces of literature. One of his most famous pieces "A Psalm of Life" (first appearing in the Knickerbocker Magazine in October 1838) carries multiple meaningful messages including the importance of life and the necessity of finding your purpose in life and being productive to fulfill your said purpose.

Here is the poem:

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.

One particular line reads, "Art is long, and Time is fleeting". This specific line has stayed with me since the first time I had read it. 

What exactly does this statement mean?

I believe the message Longfellow is trying to deploy is the fact in which art is everlasting and cannot be taken away or changed over time. However, time never ceases to stop for us and things change as time changes.

Art is long lasting, yet our time on earth is not. 
This stresses the importance of art. We need to leave a piece of us behind and what better way to do so besides art ? Art comes in all different forms, but it is ultimately up to us which form we leave behind.

Recently I took a trip to Washington DC and toured the Library of Congress. The architecture and mosaics where absolutely breathtaking. Just by standing in the Library I was able to get a feel of the time period in which it was built. The art surrounding me led a path for me to begin to understand past American culture and all the other supporting influences which impacted the United States. 

Ironically, when I looked up at the decorated walls in the Library, Longfellow's very words were displayed above me with the exact line I treasure so much. I believe that this was not a coincidence at all, the individual who was in charge of decorating the Library placed that quote to express the importance of the power of art on a society.