There are numerous ways by which a poet translates his feelings of spontaneity to mirror the cocktail of life’s diversity. This he does by virtue of his private experiences. What he feels of life from the depth of his being he carves with the instrument of thought. Most people find it quite hard to bring out the creative impulse in them. Those who manage to do so, express the creative instinct in different forms. Poetry is one such form. This dimension of human thought excites critics as they work their way towards analyzing poems.
‘A Psalm of Life’ describes the spirit of the title in relation to its semantic meaning. Psalm literally means a sacred hymn and this title of the poem might have been chosen to convey the poet’s feeling of that which he considers the sacred hymn of life. The poem expresses completely the need to develop a frame of mind which is needed to live a life! The emphasis is on attitude.
The poem follows a steady rhyme scheme. It is closer to a song than to a complicated play of words. This quality precisely gives it the label of a lyric.
The poet begins by saying that life is as good as an empty dream if it is spent in sleep without action. Reality he says is deceptive in appearance. While imagination is wonderful it does not always find the desired compatibility with reality. Reality as explained earlier mystifies us in this manner.
Life according to him is real only when it is lived. Mere existence is not the key. He expresses with clarity the point of death not being the goal of life.
“And the grave is not its goal”.
He strongly opines that the soul or the real life does in no way appreciate the so called fact that man is dust and to dust he will return. He highlights the famous principle about action being the insignia of life. Our destiny and way of life are not purely for enjoyment or sorrow but action. He claims that only action will take us to a more firmly constructed tomorrow than today. It is only action that will enrich our experiences for a better life.
Art to him has a long life. He compares art with time which fleets like the wind. Our hearts beat and life goes on till we meet our grave. Art and time are beyond life and existence. By themselves they are not tangible but only in forms. We, on the other hand, with our bodies and hearts have a shorter life than both art and time. We need to make use of the shorter life that we have in order to grasp the importance and significance of both time and art.
In the battle of life, the poet wants man to be a hero in the struggle for a good life. He has not been predisposed to being one among the many. It no doubt is easy to follow. Man’s apprehensions are enough to make him a follower. It takes a lot more to be a leader. This is what the poet conveys.
“be a hero in the strife!”
The poet does not desire a form of life in which man only thinks of the future. There is absolutely no point in just hoping and dreaming away. He wants man not to dream or think of the future no matter how pleasant .The line ‘Trust no future, howe’er pleasant!’ could also mean that even if a pleasant future is predicted one should not trust it. The past to him is a wasteland that is gone or dead. Nobody can get back his/her past. Therefore only the present matters as only the present exists. We can live in the present only by acting in the present. With the heart of love, action by efforts and God above, he feels that acting in the living present will be re-enforced.
Just like how great men have made life thrilling and worth living we can do the same. In the process when we exit from the world, we leave with the satisfaction that we have contributed to it in some form or the other thereby living in memories of time.
A dejected and lonely man in his journey of life will take heart from the lives of great men that have gone by. He will receive renewed energy and hope and will act on the foundation of attitude laid down by us.
The poet wishes that we give up our obsessions with fate. He wants us to work and act with perseverance, tenacity and motivation constantly in pursuit of achievement.
Along with efforts, patience is also needed to keep our efforts going without failing in our duties.
This poem quite obviously advocates a type of philosophy not new to most people. It is extremely difficult to be true to this kind of philosophy for the pressures exerted on us by external and internal circumstances. Philosophies are also conveyed through poetry in the hope that in some way, words of wisdom sink into the sub-conscious mind. A poem with a positive message like the one by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is expected to transmit positive signals to the reader. Many, on the other hand, read it for its explicit quality of style, elegance and its easy flow. This shows the various ways by which poetry can be far-reaching. It isn’t just an object of cross-examination. The meter, rhythm and eloquence give it a natural advantage over other arts to spread the message to be conveyed with artistic clarity.
Duty and detachment, action and perseverance are words of wisdom which may tire the reader with a kind of theoretical sublimity difficult in actual life. ‘A Psalm of Life’
is definitely a Psalm of life as it has all the attributes necessary to make it one.
This poem can to a large extent make a huge difference to one’s life provided it is read clearly and taught inspiringly. Albeit a poem is a poem and it is too much to expect it to change an individual radically. While it is only a possibility it cannot guarantee certainty of radical transformation. Change is probably a gradual phenomenon. In general, it has been observed that poems or epigrams display an alarming disparity between thought and action. Taking into account all these considerations, it is most essential for a poem to be admired for its poetic beauty rather then weighing it in terms of practical value.
If a poem can change an individual’s life it has served to its credit a philosophical purpose. If it cannot make any impression of this kind it still remains a poem.
Poetry wins either way.
By Ajay Seshadri