In the course of our studies, we happened across Longfellow’s A Psalm Of Life recently, and two stanzas stood out to us in particular because combined, they provide a nutshell-answer to the eternal question “What do I live for?”. First the stanzas, then a short paraphrase:
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.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm Of Life”
The first quoted stanza conveys quite unmistakably that a man is more than his physical form. While it is true indeed that we all are made of dust and will return to dust, the breath of life that was blown into us is not and does not. The soul remains, unless I manage to offend the One that can destroy the body and the soul.
The second quoted stanza, then, defines what life down here is about: neither pleasure nor pain, but the process of becoming, one might say, what we were meant to be and what we were sent here for. We are not down here to try and enjoy it all as best we can, regardless the cost, nor to endure everything resignedly without any efforts to make things better.
The goal is, in a word, integrity, that is, to grow in virtue every day, and by the time your time is up, have become the best version of yourself. Why? So that your soul may return to its maker better than it was when it left.
Featured: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Statue
“Perched at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and M Street, the poet sits draped in his academic robe, staring out majestically from his tiny slice of traffic island. The statue was erected in 1909, and is said to be the country’s first statue commemorating a literary figure.”
For image and quote see Literary Landmarks in Washington @ www.arts.gov
If you are interested in the whole poem, you can find it and other information about it (for what it’s worth) in the “A Psalm of Life” Wiki entry.