Some poems remind you of where you’ve been, others of where you want to go. Some validate your worldview and others challenge everything you believe. Only a few have survived the test of time, and when you get them all in the same place, they become a rhythmic handbook on life, love, and the pursuit of a meaningful existence.
This is probably Kipling’s most famous poem, and for good reason: it’s loaded with life lessons and no shortage of perfect lines to express them. It’s a call to temperance of personality traits — confidence but not arrogance, humility but not shame. It’s about striving for progress, both in the world and inwardly, becoming a better person by the end. Most importantly, perhaps, is the message of perseverance, even when you “watch the things you gave your life to, broken.”
If everyone tried to exhibit a little “peculiar grace” during the “mild concerns of ordinary life,” wouldn’t the world be a significantly kinder place? And if leaders only rose to high positions “by open means,” “on honourable terms?” Wordsworth places the virtues of cliché motivational posters — honesty, dedication, serenity — into a realistic context and reminds us of their importance. Further proving his wisdom, he tells us how to implement them. It’s a must-read for every human ever.
Anyone who has ever trudged knee-deep through the breakup doldrums can take solace in the fact that Bourdillon knows. that. struggle. Love can come and go as quickly as the transition from day to night, and the sudden loss of warmth and intensity can leave us grieving. Though it ends on a sad note, the unwritten message is this: the sun always rises again.
Edmund Vance Cook’s work reads like Dr. Seuss for adults, and he’s no less insightful than the Doc himself. In a society that heralds busyness and glorifies the rat race, it can be hard to remember the value of failing. Pains, obstacles and especially death are inevitable, but if we regard them as growing pains, there is much to be learned.
Henley celebrates the strength of the human spirit, battered but unyielding, as it marches through life without fear of death and what follows. This is perhaps the most famous poem when it comes to preaching perseverance and sheer grit; everyone has heard those last two lines. They’re an empowering summation of the poem as a whole, small enough to memorize and carry through our own places of “wrath and tears.”
Ehrmann’s words of wisdom are simple and timeless (this piece was penned in 1927), and will resonate with anyone interested in the mindfulness movement of today. Written plainly but gracefully, sitting down with “Desiderata” feels like finding the eye of the storm amidst relentless chaos. It’s humble and quiet, comforting and inviting. Any line is an excellent one to live by.
Addressed to students, but useful to everyone. Affecting change in a world so big is daunting, but “To A Pupil” is a succinct guide to getting started. If nothing else, Whitman’s words celebrate individuality, which is a message everyone can get behind (especially when presented so artfully).