A Psalm of Life from (and for) my grandpa

My grandfather Lauren Lee Alley passed away yesterday. Going through his old things, my father found a small note in his former happy place — the garage. Written, front and back on the small piece of yellow paper, in grandpa’s all-caps printing were two verses of poetry. As his grand-daughter I was surprised because, as far as I was concerned, grandpa was not known for being particularly poetic nor flowery of verse. As an english major, I was delighted and immediately got to researching. What I found was a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Turns out Longfellow was inspired to write this poem by one of those deep, late night conversations that, for me, are usually spurred by close friendships and glasses of wine. He and fellow professor at Harvard spent an evening “talking of matters, which lie near one’s soul — and how to bear one’s self doughtily in Life’s battle: and make the best of things.” The next day, Lonfellow wrote “A Psalm of Life.”

I found this piece particularly pitch perfect, given the recent events. I also want to take this chance to thank my Grandfather for leaving it behind for me to find and to take comfort in:

A Psalm of Life
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 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.

RIP Lauren Lee Alley — you were one bad-ass mother fucker that no one wanted to mess with, but with a startling love of poetry. You’re still surprising me. :)

6/16/29 – 11/10/11

UPDATE:

I’m just getting to watch the new Glee, I haven’t had the time since I’ve been dealing with my grandpa’s death and trying to work when I’m not over at my grandma’s. Anyway, the point of this is that the Warblers performed Uptown Girl on this weeks episode, which is was my grandpa’s nickname for me — “his uptown girl.” I used to call him whenever I could, when that song would come on the radio to say hi. Thanks Glee.

10 thoughts on “A Psalm of Life from (and for) my grandpa

  1. Love that he is still surprising you all! I think when you have lived a long life, had family and friends come and go, people who think they know all of your secrets, live alongside you for the longest time, it would be such a great feeling to still have had something all to yourself!
    Sending much love!! Xx

  2. And Dad and I were so very proud of your poise and grace while reciting (from memory!) the poem during Grandpa’s service. Thank you for contributing in making it a wonderful day!
    Much love,
    Momita

  3. Aww Megan. This is lovely, and has made me tear up a bit. I’m so sorry for your loss. I just recently lost my grandfather too, and I know how sad and how awful it is. I’m thinking of you, you sweet thing.

  4. Pingback: Sick. « funk in deep freeze

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