The Psalm of Life
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Answers for all the questions from the poetry ‘The Psalm of Life’ included in the CHSE +2 book ‘Invitation to English – 1’.
Think it out
1. Does the title suggest what the poem is about?
Answer – Yes, he name encapsulates the essence of this poem.
2. What does the poet say about ‘life’ in the first stanza?
Answer – The poet states that life holds unlimited possibilities, only if we strive to explore them. Life is never barren, dull, or dark.
3. What does the poet mean by ‘Life is real! Life is earnest!‘?
Answer – The author asserts that life is vibrant, colourful, and is a fertile field for those who venture to discover its hidden charm. Life rewards honest endeavour, and seldom lets down a creative mind.
4. What is the poet‘s observation on ‘soul’?
Answer – The soul is the core of life. It imparts the driving force needed for action, confronting failures, striving anew, and creating something great. Soul is anathema to laxity, excuses, inaction and laziness.
5. Quote the line which means – ‘death is not the goal of life’.
Answer – ‘The grave is not the goal’ is the line that has the same sense.
6. What attitude does the poet challenge in the first two stanzas? Is the attitude the poet positive or negative?
Answer – The poet gives a clarion call for action, effort, and utilization of all the creative instincts bestowed upon us by God. He has asked human beings to keep away from defeatist thoughts, happy-go-lucky attitude, and laziness. In many ways, such values are also taught to us by the Bhagbat Gita, which says that doing one’s duty sincerely is the greatest service to God. Life should be treated as an opportunity the mental faculties to their best extent. Slipping back to inaction due to one failure anywhere is a vice, never to be resorted to by anyone.
7. ‘Dust thou art, to dust thou returnest‘ – This expression alludes to the Bible. What are the other lines in the poem that make an allusion to the Bible‘?
Answer – Footprints on the sands of time’ (line 29) is taken from the Bible. On the whole, the poem draws heavily from the Bible for its core message and philosophy of life.
8. What does the poet say about the goal of life in Stanza 3?
Answer – [Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote this poem when he was devastated with grief after the death of his wife. However, he drew solace and strength from the Bible, and pulled himself up to face life.]
The author implores his leaders to shake off despondency, lethargy, and frustration that dot each of our lives at different times. He says that the best antidote to such misery is to take the sorrows and failures of life in one’s stride, and forge ahead with renewed vigour, so that the accomplishments of tomorrow outshine those of today. It means leaping to greater and greater heights in one’s creative endeavours.
9. What is the poet‘s observation on ‘Art’?
Answer – The word ‘Art’ appears in the line ‘dust thou art, and to dust thou returnest’. It means, ‘You are dust, and to dust you will return.’ So, ‘Art’ means ‘you’, the mortal body that merges with earth’s dust after death.
10. ‘Be a hero in the strife!’ – is it an inspiring call of the poet? What other things does the poet urge us to do?
Answer – The Bible has profoundly influenced the author in this poem. The Bible calls upon all Christians to wage a relentless war against the evils within, such as greed, lust, laziness, and trickery. The author asks the fellow Christians to be warriors in such self purification battle.
11. Why does the poet prefer the ‘present‘ to ‘past‘ and ‘future‘?
Answer – The ‘past’ is dead, a part of history. It is not going to come back, nor basking in past glory can get us the benefit in the present. Pining over sorrowful things already consigned to history only dampens our spirit. In the same breath, ‘Future’ is uncertain, illusory, and deceptive. Banking on future only robs us of initiative to face the rough and grind of life. Thinking these, the author asks his readers to focus on the present, and do everything with the best of efforts. He asks us to treat God as the guide when we grapple with the tasks of the present.
12. What do the lives of great men remind us?
Answer – Great men are our beacons, our role models, and our sources of information. Their contributions to our well being is immense, for which we put them in an exalted pedestal. Reading their biographies instills us with zeal and drive to do something new, something good. The author asks his readers to emulate and draw inspiration from these immortal, great men and women who have departed from this world leaving behind their indelible footprints on the sands of time.
13. How do the examples of great men help a person in distress?
Answer – Almost all great men and women had to face many trials and tribulations in their life time, before the society recognized their contributions and rewarded them with adulation. We all face similar difficulties whenever we begin to do something innovative and creative. One can recall the life histories of Kulabruddha Madhusudan Das, Madam Curie, van Gough, Swami Vivekananda to realize that path to glory is always riddled with stones. Reading the life histories of great men and women inspires us not to surrender, and never to admit defeat. It drives us in our noble effort.
14. How can we make our life sublime? (last stanza)
Answer – In the last para, the author asks us to get back to our feet, summon all the courage at our command, defy the hurdles, and push ahead without looking for rewards or bothering about failures. Action and will power should be our weapons as we strive to reach our goals. In many ways this message is very much akin to the underlying message of the Bhagvad Gita.
16. The poet uses some depressing words as ‘mournful’, ‘empty,‘ ‘dead,‘ ‘grave‘. What other such words does he use in the poem?
Answer – The words are Forlorn, Shipwrecked, Departing etc.
17. What is the tone of the poem – inspiring or despairing?
Answer – It is very inspiring.
18. ‘Simile‘ is a figure of speech making comparison between two unlike things based on a similarity in one aspect. Ex: ‘Still, like muffled drums…’ (Stanza 4, line 3). What other similes do you find in the poem?
Answer – ‘muffled drums’, bevouac of life’, ‘sands of time’, ‘shipwrecked brother’ etc.
19. ‘Life is but an empty dream!’ – what figure of speech is used here? Quote another line of the same stanza in which this figure of speech is used.
Answer – ‘Soul is dead that slumbers.’
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