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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

A Psalm Of Life. What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist

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

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

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

13   Art is long, and Time is fleeting, 
14       And our hearts, though stout and brave, 
15   Still, like muffled drums, are beating 
16       Funeral marches to the grave. 

17   In the world's broad field of battle, 
18       In the bivouac of Life, 
19   Be not like dumb, driven cattle! 
20       Be a hero in the strife! 

21   Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant! 
22       Let the dead Past bury its dead! 
23   Act, -- act in the living Present! 
24       Heart within, and God o'erhead! 

25   Lives of great men all remind us 
26       We can make our lives sublime, 
27   And, departing, leave behind us 
28       Footprints on the sands of time; 

29   Footprints, that perhaps another, 
30       Sailing o'er life's solemn main, 
31   A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, 
32       Seeing, shall take heart again. 

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


1     When descends on the Atlantic 
2         The gigantic 
3     Storm-wind of the equinox, 
4     Landward in his wrath he scourges 
5         The toiling surges, 
6     Laden with seaweed from the rocks: 

7     From Bermuda's reefs; from edges 
8         Of sunken ledges, 
9     In some far-off, bright Azore; 
10   From Bahama, and the dashing, 
11       Silver-flashing 
12   Surges of San Salvador; 

13   From the tumbling surf, that buries 
14       The Orkneyan skerries, 
15   Answering the hoarse Hebrides; 
16   And from wrecks of ships, and drifting 
17       Spars, uplifting 
18   On the desolate, rainy seas; -- 

19   Ever drifting, drifting, drifting 
20       On the shifting 
21   Currents of the restless main; 
22   Till in sheltered coves, and reaches 
23       Of sandy beaches, 
24   All have found repose again. 

25   So when storms of wild emotion 
26       Strike the ocean 
27   Of the poet's soul, erelong 
28   From each cave and rocky fastness, 
29       In its vastness, 
30   Floats some fragment of a song: 

31   From the far-off isles enchanted, 
32       Heaven has planted 
33   With the golden fruit of Truth; 
34   From the flashing surf, whose vision 
35       Gleams Elysian 
36   In the tropic clime of Youth; 

37   From the strong Will, and the Endeavor 
38       That forever 
39   Wrestle with the tides of Fate; 
40   From the wreck of Hopes far-scattered, 
41       Tempest-shattered, 
42   Floating waste and desolate; -- 

43   Ever drifting, drifting, drifting 
44       On the shifting 
45   Currents of the restless heart; 
46   Till at length in books recorded, 
47       They, like hoarded 
48   Household words, no more depart. 


1     A vision as of crowded city streets, 
2         With human life in endless overflow; 
3         Thunder of thoroughfares; trumpets that blow 
4         To battle; clamor, in obscure retreats, 
5     Of sailors landed from their anchored fleets; 
6         Tolling of bells in turrets, and below 
7         Voices of children, and bright flowers that throw 
8         O'er garden-walls their intermingled sweets! 
9     This vision comes to me when I unfold 
10       The volume of the Poet paramount, 
11       Whom all the Muses loved, not one alone; -- 
12   Into his hands they put the lyre of gold, 
13       And, crowned with sacred laurel at their fount, 
14       Placed him as Musagetes on their throne. 

Sir Humphrey Gilbert

1     Southward with fleet of ice 
2     Sailed the corsair Death; 
3     Wild and gast blew the blast, 
4     And the east-wind was his breath. 

5     His lordly ships of ice 
6     Glisten in the sun; 
7     On each side, like pennons wide, 
8     Flashing crystal streamlets run. 

9     His sails of white sea-mist 
10   Dripped with silver rain; 
11   But where he passed there were cast 
12   Leaden shadows o'er the main. 

13   Eastward from Campobello 
14   Sir Humphrey Gilbert sailed; 
15   Three days or more seaward he bore, 
16   Then, alas! the land-wind failed. 

17   Alas! the land-wind failed, 
18   And ice-cold grew the night; 
19   And nevermore, on sea or shore, 
20   Should Sir Humphrey see the light. 

21   He sat upon the deck, 
22   The Book was in his hand; 
23   "Do not fear! Heaven is as near," 
24   He said, "by water as by land!" 

25   In the first watch of the night, 
26   Without a signal's sound, 
27   Out of the sea, mysteriously, 
28   The fleet of Death rose all around. 

29   The moon and the evening star 
30   Were hanging in the shrouds; 
31   Every mast, as it passed, 
32   Seemed to rake the passing clouds. 

33   They grappled with their prize, 
34   At midnight black and cold! 
35   As of a rock was the shock; 
36   Heavily the ground-swell rolled. 

37   Southward through day and dark, 
38   They drift in cold embrace, 
39   With mist and rain, o'er the open main; 
40   Yet there seems no change of place. 

41   Southward, forever southward, 
42   They drift through dark and day; 
43   And like a dream, in the Gulf-Stream 
44   Sinking, vanish all away. 

The Skeleton In Armor

1     "Speak! speak! thou fearful guest! 
2     Who, with thy hollow breast 
3     Still in rude armor drest, 
4         Comest to daunt me! 
5     Wrapt not in Eastern balms, 
6     But with thy fleshless palms 
7     Stretched, as if asking alms, 
8         Why dost thou haunt me?" 

9     Then, from those cavernous eyes 
10   Pale flashes seemed to rise, 
11   As when the Northern skies 
12       Gleam in December; 
13   And, like the water's flow 
14   Under December's snow, 
15   Came a dull voice of woe 
16       From the heart's chamber. 

17   "I was a Viking old! 
18   My deeds, though manifold, 
19   No Skald in song has told, 
20       No Saga taught thee!
21   Take heed, that in thy verse 
22   Thou dost the tale rehearse, 
23   Else dread a dead man's curse; 
24       For this I sought thee. 

25   "Far in the Northern Land, 
26   By the wild Baltic's strand, 
27   I, with my childish hand, 
28       Tamed the gerfalcon; 
29   And, with my skates fast-bound, 
30   Skimmed the half-frozen Sound, 
31   That the poor whimpering hound 
32       Trembled to walk on. 

33   "Oft to his frozen lair 
34   Tracked I the grisly bear, 
35   While from my path the hare 
36       Fled like a shadow; 
37   Oft through the forest dark 
38   Followed the were-wolf's bark, 
39   Until the soaring lark 
40       Sang from the meadow. 

41   "But when I older grew, 
42   Joining a corsair's crew, 
43   O'er the dark sea I flew 
44       With the marauders. 
45   Wild was the life we led; 
46   Many the souls that sped, 
47   Many the hearts that bled, 
48       By our stern orders. 

49   "Many a wassail-bout 
50   Wore the long Winter out; 
51   Often our midnight shout 
52       Set the cocks crowing, 
53   As we the Berserk's tale 
54   Measured in cups of ale, 
55   Draining the oaken pail, 
56       Filled to o'erflowing. 

57   "Once as I told in glee 
58   Tales of the stormy sea, 
59   Soft eyes did gaze on me, 
60       Burning yet tender; 
61   And as the white stars shine 
62   On the dark Norway pine, 
63   On that dark heart of mine 
64       Fell their soft splendor. 

65   "I wooed the blue-eyed maid, 
66   Yielding, yet half afraid, 
67   And in the forest's shade 
68       Our vows were plighted. 
69   Under its loosened vest 
70   Fluttered her little breast, 
71   Like birds within their nest 
72       By the hawk frighted. 

73   "Bright in her father's hall 
74   Shields gleamed upon the wall, 
75   Loud sang the minstrels all, 
76       Chanting his glory; 
77   When of old Hildebrand 
78   I asked his daughter's hand, 
79   Mute did the minstrels stand 
80       To hear my story. 

81   "While the brown ale he quaffed, 
82   Loud then the champion laughed, 
83   And as the wind-gusts waft 
84       The sea-foam brightly, 
85   So the loud laugh of scorn, 
86   Out of those lips unshorn, 
87   From the deep drinking-horn 
88       Blew the foam lightly. 

89   "She was a Prince's child, 
90   I but a Viking wild, 
91   And though she blushed and smiled, 
92       I was discarded! 
93   Should not the dove so white 
94   Follow the sea-mew's flight, 
95   Why did they leave that night 
96       Her nest unguarded? 

97   "Scarce had I put to sea, 
98   Bearing the maid with me, 
99   Fairest of all was she 
100       Among the Norsemen! 
101   When on the white sea-strand, 
102   Waving his armed hand, 
103   Saw we old Hildebrand, 
104       With twenty horsemen. 

105   "Then launched they to the blast, 
106   Bent like a reed each mast, 
107   Yet we were gaining fast, 
108       When the wind failed us; 
109   And with a sudden flaw 
110   Came round the gusty Skaw, 
111   So that our foe we saw 
112       Laugh as he hailed us. 

113   "And as to catch the gale 
114   Round veered the flapping sail, 
115   'Death!' was the helmsman's hail, 
116       'Death without quarter!' 
117   Mid-ships with iron keel 
118   Struck we her ribs of steel; 
119   Down her black hulk did reel 
120       Through the black water! 

121   "As with his wings aslant, 
122   Sails the fierce cormorant, 
123   Seeking some rocky haunt, 
124       With his prey laden, -- 
125   So toward the open main, 
126   Beating to sea again, 
127   Through the wild hurricane, 
128       Bore I the maiden. 

129   "Three weeks we westward bore, 
130   And when the storm was o'er, 
131   Cloud-like we saw the shore 
132       Stretching to leeward; 
133   There for my lady's bower 
134   Built I the lofty tower, 
135   Which, to this very hour, 
136     Stands looking seaward. 

137   "There lived we many years; 
138   Time dried the maiden's tears; 
139   She had forgot her fears, 
140       She was a mother; 
141   Death closed her mild blue eyes, 
142   Under that tower she lies; 
143   Ne'er shall the sun arise 
144       On such another! 

145   "Still grew my bosom then, 
146   Still as a stagnant fen! 
147   Hateful to me were men, 
148       The sunlight hateful! 
149   In the vast forest here, 
150   Clad in my warlike gear, 
151   Fell I upon my spear, 
152       Oh, death was grateful! 

153   "Thus, seamed with many scars, 
154   Bursting these prison bars, 
155   Up to its native stars 
156       My soul ascended! 
157   There from the flowing bowl 
158   Deep drinks the warrior's soul, 
159   Skoal! to the Northland! skoal!" 
160       Thus the tale ended. 

Snow Flakes

1     Out of the bosom of the Air, 
2         Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken, 
3     Over the woodlands brown and bare, 
4         Over the harvest-fields forsaken, 
5             Silent, and soft, and slow 
6             Descends the snow. 

7     Even as our cloudy fancies take 
8         Suddenly shape in some divine expression, 
9     Even as the troubled heart doth make 
10       In the white countenance confession, 
11           The troubled sky reveals 
12           The grief it feels. 

13   This is the poem of the air, 
14       Slowly in silent syllables recorded; 
15   This is the secret of despair, 
16       Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded, 
17           Now whispered and revealed 
18           To wood and field. 

The Tide Rises. The Tide Falls

1     The tide rises, the tide falls, 
2     The twilight darkens, the curlew calls; 
3     Along the sea-sands damp and brown 
4     The traveller hastens toward the town, 
5         And the tide rises, the tide falls. 

6     Darkness settles on roofs and walls, 
7     But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls; 
8     The little waves, with their soft, white hands, 
9     Efface the footprints in the sands, 
10       And the tide rises, the tide falls. 

11   The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls 
12   Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls; 
13   The day returns, but nevermore 
14   Returns the traveller to the shore, 
15       And the tide rises, the tide falls. 

Ultima Thule: Dedication to G. W. G.

1     With favoring winds, o'er sunlit seas, 
2     We sailed for the Hesperides, 
3     The land where golden apples grow; 
4     But that, ah! that was long ago. 

5     How far, since then, the ocean streams 
6     Have swept us from that land of dreams, 
7     That land of fiction and of truth, 
8     The lost Atlantis of our youth! 

9     Whither, ah, whither? Are not these 
10   The tempest-haunted Orcades, 
11   Where sea-gulls scream, and breakers roar, 
12   And wreck and sea-weed line the shore? 

13   Ultima Thule! Utmost Isle! 
14   Here in thy harbors for a while 
15   We lower our sails; a while we rest 
16   From the unending, endless quest. 

The Witnesses 

1     In Ocean's wide domains, 
2         Half buried in the sands, 
3     Lie skeletons in chains, 
4         With shackled feet and hands. 
5     Beyond the fall of dews, 
6         Deeper than plummet lies, 
7     Float ships, with all their crews, 
8         No more to sink nor rise. 
9     There the black Slave-ship swims, 
10       Freighted with human forms, 
11   Whose fettered, fleshless limbs 
12       Are not the sport of storms. 
13   These are the bones of Slaves; 
14       They gleam from the abyss; 
15   They cry, from yawning waves, 
16      "We are the Witnesses!" 

17   Within Earth's wide domains 
18       Are markets for men's lives; 
19   Their necks are galled with chains, 
20       Their wrists are cramped with gyves. 

21   Dead bodies, that the kite 
22       In deserts makes its prey; 
23   Murders, that with affright 
24       Scare school-boys from their play! 

25   All evil thoughts and deeds; 
26       Anger, and lust, and pride; 
27   The foulest, rankest weeds, 
28       That choke Life's groaning tide! 

29   These are the woes of Slaves; 
30       They glare from the abyss; 
31   They cry, from unknown graves, 
32      "We are the Witnesses!" 

The Wreck of the Hesperus 

1     It was the schooner Hesperus, 
2         That sailed the wintry sea; 
3     And the skipper had taken his little daughtèr, 
4         To bear him company. 

5     Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax, 
6         Her cheeks like the dawn of day, 
7     And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds, 
8         That ope in the month of May. 
9     The skipper he stood beside the helm, 
10       His pipe was in his mouth, 
11   And he watched how the veering flaw did blow 
12       The smoke now West, now South. 

13   Then up and spake an old Sailòr, 
14       Had sailed to the Spanish Main, 
15   "I pray thee, put into yonder port, 
16       For I fear a hurricane. 

17   "Last night, the moon had a golden ring, 
18       And to-night no moon we see!" 
19   The skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe, 
20       And a scornful laugh laughed he. 

21   Colder and louder blew the wind, 
22       A gale from the Northeast, 
23   The snow fell hissing in the brine, 
24       And the billows frothed like yeast. 

25   Down came the storm, and smote amain 
26       The vessel in its strength; 
27   She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed, 
28       Then leaped her cable's length. 

29   "Come hither! come hither! my little daughtèr, 
30       And do not tremble so; 
31   For I can weather the roughest gale 
32       That ever wind did blow." 

33   He wrapped her warm in his seaman's coat 
34       Against the stinging blast; 
35   He cut a rope from a broken spar, 
36       And bound her to the mast. 

37   "O father! I hear the church-bells ring, 
38       Oh say, what may it be?" 
39   "'T is a fog-bell on a rock-bound coast!" -- 
40       And he steered for the open sea. 

41   "O father! I hear the sound of guns, 
42       Oh say, what may it be?" 
43   "Some ship in distress, that cannot live 
44       In such an angry sea!" 

45   "O father! I see a gleaming light, 
46       Oh say, what may it be?" 
47   But the father answered never a word, 
48       A frozen corpse was he. 

49   Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark, 
50       With his face turned to the skies, 
51   The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow 
52       On his fixed and glassy eyes. 

53   Then the maiden clasped her hands and prayed 
54       That savèd she might be; 
55   And she thought of Christ, who stilled the wave 
56       On the Lake of Galilee. 

57   And fast through the midnight dark and drear, 
58       Through the whistling sleet and snow, 
59   Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept 
60       Tow'rds the reef of Norman's Woe. 

61   And ever the fitful gusts between 
62       A sound came from the land; 
63   It was the sound of the trampling surf 
64       On the rocks and the hard sea-sand. 

65   The breakers were right beneath her bows, 
66       She drifted a dreary wreck, 
67   And a whooping billow swept the crew 
68       Like icicles from her deck. 

69   She struck where the white and fleecy waves 
70       Looked soft as carded wool, 
71   But the cruel rocks, they gored her side 
72       Like the horns of an angry bull. 

73   Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice, 
74       With the masts went by the board; 
75   Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank, 
76       Ho! ho! the breakers roared! 

77   At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach, 
78       A fisherman stood aghast, 
79   To see the form of a maiden fair, 
80       Lashed close to a drifting mast. 

81   The salt sea was frozen on her breast, 
82       The salt tears in her eyes; 
83   And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed, 
84       On the billows fall and rise. 

85   Such was the wreck of the Hesperus, 
86       In the midnight and the snow! 
87   Christ save us all from a death like this, 
88       On the reef of Norman's Woe! 

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