Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Great Poem

The other day, in honor of the anniversary of tremendous events in American history, I posted the poem Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in its entirety. It's a great poem and one that I just need to read every so often.

Today, I'm posting another poem in its entirety but not for its historical significance, but rather personal significance.

Last year, in searching for a classic poem for my daughter to memorize and recite, I stumbled across this one (sure, it's famous, I just didn't know it). I had never read it and was really taken with it. What's more, I was thrilled that my pink-clad, dress-wearing, 9 year-old girly-girl was so impressed by my impression that she agreed to recite it with nary a cough or sputter in repeating the last line, "And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!"

Since then, her history teacher used this poem in reflecting on the qualities of George Washington with great effect. This morning I was reminded of it again in reading Sparrowhawk, Book One: Jack Frake by Edward Cline. As Jack becomes a man he realizes that he is the master of his life by retaining "a tight grip on his original, uncorrupted, and undiminished perspective." Mr. Cline refers to an American poet who says the same, and I'll try to find that poem, but for now...enjoy the soul food.

IF

by Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

6 comments:

C. August said...

Awesome. I got chills by the last stanza.

And I had never heard that poem before either. I've never been much for poetry.

I'll definitely remember this one though. My kids can count on hearing it in the coming years!

LB said...

Yeah. I think it's pretty awesome, too (general reaction: teary-eyed, but not sobbing liked when they opened those big curtains on the Fort McHenry flag to the acapella version of the Star-Spangled Banner - man, that was plain ugly).

I'm not big into poems either, but I do like a certain rhythm and stress, not to mention I'm a sucker for a good rhyming pattern in addition to the fact that what this says is just damn good.

I think another similar poem (perhaps the one referred to in the book) is by some cowboy poet. If I remember correctly there is a problem with his non-PC treatment of Indians (oops, I mean Native Americans). I'll comment here if I find it.

LB said...

Found it!

The Westerner
by Badger Clark

My fathers sleep on the sunrise plains,
And each one sleeps alone.
Their trails may dim to the grass and rains,
For I choose to make my own.
I lay proud claim to their blood and name,
But I lean on no dead kin;
My name is mine, for the praise or scorn,
And the world began when I was born
And the world is mine to win.
(That's the line, there.)

They built high towns on their old log sills,
Where the great, slow rivers gleamed,
But with new, live rock from the savage hills
I'll build as they only dreamed.
The smoke scarce dies where the trail camp
lies,
Till the rails glint down the pass;
The desert springs into fruit and wheat
And I lay the stones of a solid street
Over yesterday's untrod grass.

I waste no thought on my neighbor's birth
Or the way he makes his prayer.
I grant him a white man's room on earth
If his game is only square.
While he plays it straight I'll call him mate;
If he cheats I drop him flat.
Old class and rank are a wornout lie,
For all clean men are as good as I,
And a king is only that.

I dream no dreams of a nurse-maid state
That will spoon me out my food.
A stout heart sings in the fray with fate
And the shock and sweat are good.
From noon to noon all the earthly boon
That I ask my God to spare
Is a little daily bread in store,
With the room to fight the strong for more,
And the weak shall get their share.

The sunrise plains are a tender haze
And the sunset seas are gray,
But I stand here, where the bright skies blaze
Over me and the big today.
What good to me is a vague "maybe"
Or a mournful "might have been,"
For the sun wheels swift from morn to morn
And the world began when I was born
And the world is mine to win.

I added the emphasis to "white man's". Other than that, which is really just in opposition to the "red man" of those times, I think it's a great poem.

Clay said...

"If" was read at Ayn Rand's funeral.

LB said...

Thanks, Clay. I didn't know that. Now I can add in the sobbing.

Rational Jenn said...

As someone who LOVES poetry, I'll just say Hooray! If is one of my favorites, and The Westerner is, too.

I just get all goose-bumpy, too, when I hear of kids getting into great poems. How awesome!