A blupete Poetry pick

[Analysis - NO.]

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.
["Mournful numbers": Science. The application of scientific principles would bring one to the conclusion that death brings an end to life; and, by definition a cessation of all functions of a living being, including, the capacity to dream. However, in this opening stanza, Longfellow immediately declares himself to be a believer in life hereafter. Human life, he declares, would not be life without the belief (the dream) of life hereafter. It is not clear how Longfellow might be able to support this conclusion, viz., life is not life without a belief in the hereafter? Further, Longfellow dismisses rational argument by expressing the view that some things are beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.]

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.
[Proceeding on the basis that life cannot exist without the belief in the hereafter (begging the question) Longfellow then asserts that life is real (a proposition that is not much in dispute) and, Q.E.D., or so Longfellow thinks: there is an everlasting soul.]

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us further than to-day.
[Eschewing Epicureanism, Longfellow asserts that we proceed along a path, through a transition (death), to an everlasting life hereafter.]

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.
["Art is long, and Time is fleeting." Art is endless, immortal; and, man's life in his mortal frame, is measured by a discreet marker, time. The poet then repeats his established theme that our life proceeds to the grave and beyond.]

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!
[Not much on topic, but an interesting shift in pace: life's a struggle. Well, no doubt; and, no matter one's belief, a heroic life is the only one worth living.]

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!
[With these lines, Longfellow throws aside the ideas of The Enlightenment and subscribes to the notion that the Good Lord will take care of us, just as he takes care of wild birds. Have faith, make no plans, do not act rationally: a very disastrous way to conduct one's affairs, it seems to me.]

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
[Not sure which "great men" Longfellow has in mind. I suppose, throughout the pages of history we will find those who have left their marks; some rational, some irrational.]

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
[Ah! Good point. We are guided by those who succeed and we emulate their acts Those who don't succeed, indeed who get themselves into trouble, we eschew (that is not to say we would not necessarily help them out of their trouble).]

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait,
[Well, generally good advice. But, one should not labour long if expected results are not forthcoming during one's life; and, it would be a complete waste of a life to wait for an award in the hereafter on account of some unfounded belief in such.]

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).

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2011 (2022)

Peter Landry