I recently came across a classic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) and was impressed with a wonderful turn of a phrase. Here are the fifth & sixth stanzas:
A Psalm of Life
What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist
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!
"The bivouac of life." What a great phrase! As a noun, bivouac refers to a military encampment made with tents or improvised shelters, usually without protection from enemy fire or such a site where a camp may be built. Originally, the term referred to a watch set up outside a fortified town to warn of approaching enemy armies.What comparisons can we find to our lives as Christians today?
- life is a battle
- we encounter an enemy
- in one sense, we have no protection from enemy fire (We do have the armor of God, but at the same time, Satan still attacks)
- like a bivouac, our life here is a "temporary shelter"
- the "enemy army" is always approaching, always attacking
- we are called to "act in the Present," and in the final stanza of the poem, to "be up and doing. . . achieving. . . pursuing" - all under the watchful eye of "God o'erhead." The alternative would be lazy, lethargic, and passive.
Secondly, are there any poets out there today writing with such a simple, clear expression of the Christian life?