A Psalm of Life

SATB (divisi), Trumpet in C, + Piano

Recording credit: Premiere recording by Seattle Bach Choir, conducted by Dr. Anne Lyman; Zach Lyman, trumpet

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A Psalm of Life

What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

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 to-day.

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.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)


A Psalm of Life was commissioned by the Quincy Symphony Orchestra Association in honor of Dr. Phyllis Robertson’s 25th-Anniversary season as conductor of the Quincy Symphony Chorus. Following phone and email discussions with Dr. Robertson, Muehleisen sought to find a text that captured her spirit of living life to the fullest, which he found in Longfellow’s stirring poem,  A Psalm of Life. Scored for choir, trumpet, and piano, Muehleisen sets the poem in a dramatic and heroic style, which captures the epic sweep and uplifting spirit of Longfellow’s poem.

What on earth are the “mournful numbers” in “A Psalm of Life”? by Debi Simons
To read a very insightful and informative article about Longfellow’s poem and my musical setting from Debi Simons’ blog Behind the Music: Every song has a story, click HERE. As Debi says on her website “I blog about the music sung by CCC” (that’s the Cherry Creek Chorale; Click here for a YouTube video of their 2016 performance ).