Friday, August 16th, 2013...9:30 am
“Footprints on the sands of time”
Rejecting the Psalmist’s solemn emphasis on death and the life hereafter, Cambridge poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in “A Psalm of Life” famously exhorts his readers to seize the day and leave their mark in this world:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of Time …
This beloved poem first appeared in the Knickerbocker Magazine (October, 1838) and was later included with other early works in Voices of the Night (1839). A rough draft came into the possession of Longfellow’s close friend, Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner, who returned it in a letter to the poet’s wife Fanny on New Year’s Day 1845, “which has let its first stealthy footsteps on the snow” – a clever play upon Longfellow’s footprint trope.
Autograph letter from Charles Sumner to Fanny Longfellow, January 1st, 1844 [i.e., 1845] – Trustees of the Longfellow House Trust, 1976
The draft, a fair copy of the well-known seventh stanza (acquired by the poet’s grandson, H. W. L. Dana), and Sumner’s letter were recently shown in a small Houghton Library exhibition, “Ruins of Unseasonable Time,” installed for the convocation of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism conference, “Romantic Movements,” August 9th-11th 2013.
[Thanks to Peter Accardo, Coordinator of Programs, for contributing this post.]