Life is real! Life is earnest! (Be not like dumb, driven cattle.)

A Psalm of Life

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 are, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

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 sand of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solenm 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.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow’s beautiful words filled me this morning with  renewed sense of commitment to the full and generous living of life.  How easy it is to fall into the well-worn rut of living “like dumb, driven cattle.”  All it takes is a steady resistance to the idea that you could be a “hero in the strife.”

“That’s not for me.”  “Somebody else will take care of that part of life.”  Excuses abound for not revealing heroism, genius and brilliance, don’t they?  “I’m not ready.”  “I’m shy.”  “I’m afraid of what people might think.”  “There’s nothing special about me.”  “I’m just an average Joe/Jane.”

Not true!  I firmly believe that each and every one of the billions of human beings born on this great planet over the ages had and those living have the potential for greatness.  Greatness is revealed as there is victory in the “world’s broad field of battle,” yet how few can say with any degree of honesty, “I have overcome the world.”

In what ways do you feel victimized by your world, your circumstances, the choices you’ve made in life?  While this is perhaps not the prettiest or most pleasant thing to look at, it does offer plenty of starting points for taking a new tack.  You, as a human being endowed with the capacity of free will, in an era of unprecedented freedom of choice, can overcome if you so choose.

How do you overcome?  By ceasing to struggle.  The presence of a struggle in your heart or your mind indicates subjection to that with which you are entangled.  Giving up struggle does not mean not caring.  Rather, releasing struggle involves opening yourself to the perfect answer, the right action, the best choice, given the circumstances at hand.  Remember the Chinese finger puzzle?  The more you struggle the tighter the grip of the puzzle.  This principle is well-known in hunting, as the preparation of traps typically involves its reliable operation.

You cannot achieve greatness if you are bound by self-imposed shackles of subjection.  Subjection is only a state of mind, yet it can imprison even the most potentially brilliant of men and women.  Take care not to relinquish your free will, lest you become “like dumb, driven cattle.”


10 thoughts on “Life is real! Life is earnest! (Be not like dumb, driven cattle.)

  1. Rich Gulker

    To quote Vance Havner:

    “Many people are in a rut and a rut is nothing but a grave – with both ends kicked out.”

    It takes a bit of steady effort to get out of a rut, but once free- the possibilities are endless.

    I’m going to take a good long look for ruts in my life and apply some new focus to moving out of them!

    Thanks for the inspiration.


  2. Kimberly

    Didn’t get to read this until this morning, so glad I did. How amazing is this poem. The depth of feeling Longfellow was able to convey in a few words,
    “And our hearts, though stout and brave,
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
    Funeral marches to the grave.”
    The picture he paints is vivid. I ask myself do I go through this incredible life while quietly my thoughts are saying, “is this all there is?” then rushes in the litany of blame, disappointment and missed opportunity to justify the emptiness. How precious and fleeting is this time and how abundant are the possibilities to express the creativity I was born to. This is so empowering, so undeniable…thank you.


  3. Lil

    I loved this line:

    Footprints, that perhaps another,
    Sailing o’er life’s solenm main,
    A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
    Seeing, shall take heart again.

    …to have made footprints that another will take heart in – now that’s something!


  4. Doug

    This poem cuts through the mind,spirit and soul numbing din of our present culture to passionately stir us to remember to LIVE. GREAT POST…Thanks


  5. Lady Leo

    Thank you Longfellow and Gregg for spanning the centuries and uniting to free me from subjection. It doesn’t matter the brand of subjection. I am free to live if I choose to. What a brilliant idea; what an inspiring collaboration.
    I’m sure Longfellow would love that his clarion call was heard and amplified.


  6. Reina

    What a beautiful poem written by one so long ago, yet still it uplifts and challenges all who read it, timeless in it’s value and impact on humanity. I am sure when he wrote it he wasn’t thinking of who he will move in 2010. He was simply open to his creative flow and doing what his passion drove him to do. It is so easy to slay the genius that resides within by constantly focusing on failures or feelings of inadequacy, rehashing choices made in the past, or those not made. I have children, some older now, and often I find myself struggling with decisions made in the past and how it affected my children. I think this often takes me out of the present, leaving a void, keeping me from being the mother that I can be right NOW. I appreciate this post and how it can and will benefit all of our lives if we “choose” to allow it. The greatness can be revealed only in the present moment and through a peaceful heart. Elizabeth Gilbert desrcibed genius so eloquently in one of your previous posts. There is no need for the struggle, can’t we all just show up willingly for our part and let the genius and creativity flow! Thanks so much for the starting point to many hours of reflection.


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