Saturday, May 16, 2009

Parting Words: Longfellow's Psalm of Life

In his dying days, my father quoted these lines to me from his hospital bed: the last three stanzas of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Psalm of Life"....good for all of us to consider (and to wonder "Where have all the poets gone?" - gone to flowers, every one).

He also recited Polonius's words to Hamlet: "To thine own self be true. And it shall follow as the night the day: thou canst not then be false to any man."

He, one of the all-time-great joke tellers, also, for balance, would have been glad to tell the story about the man with the ugliest pecker in the world. But I told him we have that on tape.

A Psalm of Life

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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 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 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 sands of time;

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

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Breathing Right

Maybe a few times in our life, we breathe right. Some of us know from our experience of reading random magazines and informative literature, that there are some Tibetan monks and yogis who do it right all of the time. And we know, of course, from popular wisdom, that you can do some things right all of the time and you can do some things right some of the time, but you can't do all things right all of the time. But when it comes to breathing, which we do from birth til death, wouldn't you rather be in the minority of those who have "got it down"?

Every breath we take is precious. Sometimes we hyperventilate. Sometimes we get ourselves practically comatose. We need to. We're mostly young spirits, struggling along and alone with what the law allows and with what the doctor prescribes. We stare at ourselves in the mirror at the gym, hoping to see something worthwhile. Then later we primp in front of another mirror, to prepare a face to meet the faces we will meet. We forget that we are breathing, number one.

So here's to effort. Here's to concentration. Here's to self-awareness, and those who have it. It ain't me, babe.