What does art refer to in the poem: A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?

Art is long and time is fleeting

My book says Art refers to the “art of living” but this doesn't convince me and I did not get any reasonable explanation on the Internet. The article on Wikipedia doesn't mention anything on the meaning of art, instead it says the poem “is meant to inspire its readers to live actively, and neither to lament the past nor to take the future for granted.”

  • What does art mean in this line?

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

closed as primarily opinion-based by Dan Bron, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, GoldenGremlin, Kristina Lopez, user140086 May 19 '16 at 6:55

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Some statues and urns and other pieces of art were created thousands of years ago, and still exist today. A number of them in perfect condition. They've lived millennia. The people who created them, all those thousands of years ago, are long dead, and lived 80 years at best. Art is long; life is short. – Dan Bron May 18 '16 at 18:55
  • My question is with specific reference to the psalm of life – user171176 May 18 '16 at 18:56
  • Ah, I see. Trouble is we don't do interpretation of poetry (or lyrics, literature, legalese, etc) here, because it's essentially moot: up to endless debate, which can never be settled with a single "definitive" answer. For more on what we can and can't answer here, please see the help center. – Dan Bron May 18 '16 at 18:58
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    It's not about fine arts; it's about exercising any 'art' = craft or skill. Longfellow is paraphrasing Hippocrates, whose point was that the physician has only a short lifetime in which to develop and exercise his art. – StoneyB May 18 '16 at 19:01
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    The famous Latin phrase from which this is adapted is ars longa, vita brevis: "Art is long; life is short." The lifetime of works of art is being compared favorably with the lifetime of the artist. – Doug Warren May 18 '16 at 19:08

Longfellow is alluding to an original line from Hippocrates, the father of medicine. The Greek is literally, "the art is long, life is brief". The art in question is medicine, and the sentiment of the original quote is that you never really live long enough to master your craft. The phrase is more popular in Latin translation ars longa, vita brevis.

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    The actual Greek translates to "Life is short, the art long, opportunity fleeting, experimentation perilous, and judgement difficult." – Peter Shor May 18 '16 at 19:32
  • The Greek and Latin versions are available here. – John Lawler May 18 '16 at 20:03
  • +1 from me, I would never have known this but for your answer. – Mari-Lou A May 28 '16 at 11:40