Honors American Literature p.4
Draft: (min. 500 words) Analyze the theme of A Psalm of Life (pg 345), exploring how the historical context (political, social, philosophical, religious, ethical) influences this theme.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was rumored to have written “A Psalm of Life” after a long conversation with a Harvard professor, Cornelius Conway Felton. They discussed matters of the heart and things said only in a vulnerable and safe setting. This can be seen in Longfellow’s works: the long conversations with close friends that prompt a surge of exuberant and youthful energy. Longfellow’s writing advocates for the appreciation of life, and through that, the joys and bold moments life leaves people with. Longfellow is directly influenced by the Romantic movement, for he emphasizes that while there if strife, battle and death to face, there is still art and spontaneity to be experienced.
Longfellow’s first example of romanticism comes from stanza one, “Tell me not, in mournful numbers, /Life is but an empty dream! -/For the soul is dead that slumbers,” His metaphor comparing those dormant souls who have resigned to a drowsy outlook on life might as well be dead. His lionization of the mournful numbers discerning life as barren induces a sort of defiant, youthful voice that is resemblant of his greatest influence, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Both styles acknowledge the dreary and immediately return to something lighter. Longfellow also embraces a more gothic view such as Edgar Allan Poe’s mastery. Stanzas two and three say “Dust thou art, to dust returnest,/Was not spoken of the soul./Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,/Is our destined end or way;” There is something far darker here, leading the reader to
believe that perhaps there is nothing but dust to return to the earth. Perhaps it is an apathetic experience that cannot be colored with emotions or words.
Longfellow continues the intimacy of the conversation with Felton in stanza four, “Art is...
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