Can a Poem Change Your Life?

Back in the 1980’s, before self-publishing, before blogs, and before emails and message boards, the only way to learn was to be in the presence of a teacher…

OR if you were lucky, he would get a book published that you could buy at a bookstore or check out at a library.

Already an avid reader and martial artist, I eagerly awaited the publication of Grandmaster Ed Parker’s books that comprised the Infinite Insights into Kenpo 5 volume series.

Not only for the technical instruction, but for the martial arts philosophy.

Knowledge, not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today, was precious, and I wore out my copies of these books, re-reading, taking notes, and pondering every little morsel of insight I could.

Oddly, it wasn’t Mr. Parker’s martial arts explanations that stuck with me so much as it was something he didn’t write but included in the back of one of the books.

It was a poem.

I figured that if this poem was important enough for him to include, then it behooved me to read it and take it to heart.

This poem was radically different from the Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Emily Dickinson I was studying in school.

Fast-forward to 1997, when I was moving to Colorado from my teacher’s school in Fort Myers, FL, I was gifted with what else, but a plaque of this same poem, which I still have in my office.

This poem fueled me and inspires me to this very day.

The first stanza of the poem lays out life’s challenge: things go wrong, it gets really hard to continue, and you don’t have the resources to go on.

The second stanza acknowledges that life is uncertain, it changes in ways we never expect, and that there is hope

The third stanza tells us how often we are far closer to success than we realize and what could have been had we kept going.

The fourth stanza admonishes us to never give in, especially when “you’re hardest hit.”

Here’s the poem that keeps me goin’.

Don’t Quit
by Edgar A. Guest

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit –
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns.
As everyone of us sometimes learns.
And many a fellow turns about when he
Might have won had he stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow –
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than it seems
To a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up when he
Might have captured the victor’s cup;
And he learned too late when the night came down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out –
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And when you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –
It’s when things seem worst,
You must not quit.