(7) Powerful Life Poetry For Hard Times

Jump to specific poems:

A Psalm of Life – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

henry wordsworth longfellow

“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.”

Written in the carpe diem theme with an urging, urgent poetic style, the poem ‘A Psalm of Life’ is one meant to stimulate growth by comparing certain aspects of life and death. Essentially, it illustrates that life is not worthless and neither is it a fantasy.

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.

Life is not a place where souls are cast to suffer and die. it is a place where each day presents an opportunity to live presently in the moment, hindsight in place and be better tomorrow than we are today.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act that each tomorrow
Find us farther than to – day.

There is a fate each man holds for his own life, a destiny to be fulfilled. Life is a tangible thing, not a dream and even our suffering has meaning.

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. 

Read the full poem below and listen along as you read:

A Psalm of Life

BY HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

Also called, What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

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.

Related: The Fate Of An Oleander Garden

Desiderata – Max Ehrmann

max ehrmann

“You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Written in prose form, Desiderata, is a didactic poem ie. morally instructional, with the word Desiderata meaning that which is desired. Pertaining to the poem, it speaks of desirable qualities for a happy life. it encourages a balanced approach towards life. Replete with reason it is a treasure of wisdom that is honest in its approach. Life comes with its own share of adversity but Ehrmann tells us to find and celebrate the goodness in each step of the way.

You deserve to be here on this Universe. Be at peace with your God, whoever you may think he is. Avoid loud people and don’t be cynical about love. Above all, prioritize your peace in the noisy rush of life for though it be far from perfect, it still remains beautiful.

Read along as you listen below:

Desiderata

BY MAX ERHMANN

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Related: Where Are We As Humanity Going? Surely? Seriously? Honestly?

Invictus – William Earnest Henley

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

The poem has retained it’s original conviction since its publication in 1888. As Nelson Mandela’s favorite poem, Invictus inspired the man that liberated a whole Nation to continue the fight to end apartheid. He used it to keep his hope alive during the 27 years he stayed in prison and would recite it whenever he felt it dying and drained.  U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was also quite fond of it.

Invictus remains a poem that rises many men out of adversity because it was born from adversity. W.E. Henley wrote Invictus whilst in hospital undergoing treatment for tubercular arthritis, specifically those in his left leg, which had to be amputated from the knee down. He’d battled with the disease since age twelve and the courage it took to see himself through intense moments of pain is the same courage the poem impacts upon the reader.

Fun fact: the character Long John Silver – from the book Treasure Island– is actually based on W.E.Henley. He was good friends with Robert Louis Stevenson.

Invictus

BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

Go All The Way – Charles Bukowski

charles bukowski

“We are like roses that have never bothered to bloom when we should have bloomed and it is as if the sun has become disgusted with waiting.”

Whenever you feel like a lifeless balloon, sucked dry of the air of motivation, chocking on procrastination, deeply lackadaisical, refer back to this supercharging poem. Go All The Way is one of many of the great works of the late poet that can be found in the book Betting On The Muse. It can also be found in his novel Factotum.

This poem is that good friend that accompanies you throughout the journey of your life, reminding you not to abandon hope in times of distress, to wake up and finish a project, or run a mile, or do whatever the magnet of weariness and sluggishness is pulling you away from. Don’t half-ass your routine when it comes to protecting yourself against the virus. Don’t keep silent when all around you injustice flourishes. Do things with intention. As a romantic pessimist, there is much luminosity to be found in his words. Use your pain for your passion. When you start something, go all the way!

Go All The Way

BY CHARLES BUKOWSKI

If you’re going to try, go all the way.

Otherwise, don’t even start.

If you’re going to try, go all the way.

This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs and maybe even your mind.

It could mean not eating for three or four days.

It could mean freezing on a park bench.

It could mean jail.

It could mean derision, mockery, isolation.

Isolation is the gift.

All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it.

And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds.

And it will be better than anything else you can imagine.

If you’re going to try, go all the way.

There is no other feeling like that.

You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire.

DO IT. DO IT. DO IT. All the way

You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.

Related: How To Find A Meaning in Life- Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning

If— Rudyard Kipling

rudyard kipling

No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

If was initially a poem addressed to his son John and was first published in the “Brother Square-Toes” chapter of Rewards and Fairies, a 1910 collection of verse and short stories. It can be interpreted as a poem dealing with manhood but more so, as a poem of stoic nature that expresses idealistic characters and behaviours of man. This group of ideal characteristics is similar to those expressed in “The Thousandth Man“, another one of his famous poems.

He explains how to deal with different situations in life: to have faith in yourself even when others doubt you, to not lie even if another lies to you and not hate even when all around you hate surrounds, withstand with humility moments of greatness and just the same when in pain, be able to lose all the fruits of our labour and work for it all again.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If we do all this and more of what he explains, then every tangible and intangible element on earth shall be ours. Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it… ‘If’ is a conditional clause that depends upon one’s action to be able to achieve that which he so desires.

 India-born British Nobel laureate passes the message that we should find a balance in life and not careen our lives with extremities. Do not get carried away by the good in life but also, remain positive when neck-deep in the bad. The antithesis (a thing that is the direct opposite of another) present in the poem: ‘wait and not be tired by waiting’, ‘trust yourself when all men doubt you,’ and meet with ‘Triumph and Disaster’, create a sense of both excessive positivity and excessive negativity being a bad thing. In the end, the poem promotes balance, harmony and moderation with the themes of individuality, happiness, success, willpower, self-actualization, and virtue.

Kipling’s biographer, Andrew Lycett, says”In these straitened times, the old-fashioned virtues of fortitude, responsibilities and resolution, as articulated in ‘If-‘, become ever more important.”

IF

BY RUDYARD KIPLING

(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

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!

Related: The Science of Well-Being and The Meaning Of Life (Wk 1)

The Laughing Heart – Charles Bukowski

charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

I decided to include another of Bukowski’s poems because it’s one I come back to quite frequently and, given the times, it applies a lot to our current lives. In as much as Bukowski might not appeal to feminists for his misogynist reputation, his works cannot be overlooked as to his interpretation of life and lessons learnt from his own mistakes in his life.

I love Bukowski’s rustic writing style but if there is one person I would recommend from this list, it would have to be H.W.Longfellow. This prolific poet proved the fact that Romanticism was not confined to Europe and the musicality of his poetry sits perched on a peak with very few other literary names. You can also discover other significant authors with a heart set on changing your life’s perspectives from this list: 10 Most Recommended Autobiographies of All Time

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Extras because I can’t help it

Defeat

BY KAHLIL GIBRAN

Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.

Read full poem here: Defeat by Khalil Gibran

A Haruki Murakami Quote that encourages us as we continue to battle the Corona Virus Pandemic which I stumbled upon while reading Men Without Women.

“Everything is blowing up around us, but there are still those who care about a broken lock, and others who are dutiful enough to try to fix it … But maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.”

Men Without Women, Haruki Murakami

I hope you found this article helpful and informative. Know anymore poems? Please share them in the comments and I will include it in next week’s post.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. johncoyote says:

    Reblogged this on johncoyote and commented:
    Great poetry shared.

    Like

    1. KENDI KARIMI says:

      Thank you for reblogging. 🤗

      Liked by 1 person

      1. johncoyote says:

        You are welcome dear Kendi. Good words read make us create.

        Like

  2. johncoyote says:

    All the poetry was wonderful. We need examples to become better writers and you choose the great writer and worthwhile words/thoughts.

    Like

    1. KENDI KARIMI says:

      I agree. This poetry is truly empowering. Happy you enjoyed the selection.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. johncoyote says:

        I have reading similar work lately. I listen on the YouTube to poetry now. I like the ancient books too. I did enjoy Kendi.

        Like

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