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Poems About Failure

Table of Contents

  1. Failure by Amos Russel Wells
  2. Loss and Gain by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  3. Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
  4. Failure? by Amos Russel Wells
  5. Failure by William Francis Barnard
  6. Keep a-Goin by Frank L. Stanton
  7. God Will Count Your Honest Try by William Henry Dawson
  8. Purpose by Anonymous
  9. The Boy Who Didn't Pass by Anonymous
  10. The Singing Lesson by Jean Ingelow
  11. The Gift of Empty Hands by S. M. B. Piatt
  12. Begin a Year To-Day! by Anonymous
  13. Who Killed the Plan? by Amos Rusell Wells
  14. Philosophy by Emily Dickinson
  15. The Past by Emily Dickinson
  16. To hang our head ostensibly by Emily Dickinson
  17. I Will Be Worthy of It by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
  18. His Other Chance by Edgar A. Guest
  19. At Appomattox by Carl Holliday
  20. Old and New by Anonymous
  21. Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes by William Shakespeare
  22. Life's Tragedy by Paul Laurence Dunbar

  1. Failure

    Failure is an ugly coal:
    Fuse it to a diamond soul!

    - Amos R. Wells
    by Amos Russel Wells

    Failure is a rocky hill:
    Climb it! Climb it with a will!

    Failure is a broken bone:
    Set it! Grin, and do not groan!

    Failure is a tangled string:
    Puzzle out the knotted thing!

    Failure is a river swift:
    Swim it! Swim, and do not drift!

    Failure is a black morass:
    Cross it! There are tufts of grass!

    Failure is a treacherous pit:
    Scramble! Clamber out of it!

    Failure is an inky night:
    Sing! Expect the morning light!

    Failure is an ugly coal:
    Fuse it to a diamond soul!

  2. Loss and Gain

    Defeat may be victory in disguise;
    The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.

    - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    Loss and Gain
    by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    When I compare
    What I have lost with what I have gained,
    What I have missed with what attained,
    Little room do I find for pride.

    I am aware
    How many days have been idly spent;
    How like an arrow the good intent
    Has fallen short or been turned aside.

    But who shall dare
    To measure loss and gain in this wise?
    Defeat may be victory in disguise;
    The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.

  3. Casey at the Bat

    by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888.

    The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
    The score stood four to two with but one inning more to play.
    And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
    A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

    A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
    Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
    They thought if only Casey could but get a whack at that―
    We’d put up even money now with Casey at the bat.

    But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
    And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
    So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
    For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.

    But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
    And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
    And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
    There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

    Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
    It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
    It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
    For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

    There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
    There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
    And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
    No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.

    Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
    Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
    Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
    Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

    And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
    And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
    Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped―
    “That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

    From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
    Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
    “Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted some one on the stand;
    And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

    With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
    He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
    He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
    But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”

    “Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
    But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
    They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
    And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

    The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clinched in hate;
    He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
    And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
    And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

    Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
    The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
    And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
    But there is no joy in Mudville―mighty Casey has struck out.

  4. Failure?

    Oh, praise to God, who looks beyond the deed,
    Who measures man by what a man would be,
    Who sees a harvest in a blighted stalk.

    - Amos R. Wells
    by Amos Russel Wells

    A pine that grew where all the winds assail
    Grew gnarled and crooked; but because it grew
    To all its fate erect, I think it stands
    Chief in the pleasure garden of its God.

    A ruby formed its facets in the dark
    Where other growing splendors pressed across
    And marred its perfectness; but perfectly
    it grew to its conditions and I think
    The King of Heaven wears it in His crown.

    A man, amid the turmoil of the world,
    The harryings of selfishness and greed,
    Faintings within and fears and sneers without,
    Lamely and poorly did a deed for God;
    But God, because he measured to the best
    Of narrow lot and poverty of mind,
    I think that God has caught the failure up
    Within the glowing circle of His grace.
    And there transformed it into high success.

    Oh, praise to God, who looks beyond the deed,
    Who measures man by what a man would be,
    Who sees a harvest in a blighted stalk,
    Who crowns defeat with His victorious palms,
    And rears upon our marshes of despair
    The thrones and mansions of eternity!

  5. Failure

    by William Francis Barnard

    Who, then, hath failed? That one who tries
    To reach life far above his eyes;
    Who longs to do the worthiest things,
    And 'gainst all difficulties flings
    The power and strength that make a man;
    That one who would complete what faith began,
    But, climbing on, o'ercoming all,
    Bursts his strong heart, and reels, to fall
    Before some last vast summit still unscaled?
    He hath not failed!

    There is a triumph in defeat;
    And noble sorrow's tears are sweet.
    The high heart raptures, though it break
    In stress of agony's fierce ache.
    Yes, when all strength, all will is spent
    In strife where truth and honor both are blent,
    The sense of worth, the thought that all
    Was risked for good, to stand or fall—
    These things turn blackest ruin that may be,
    To victory!

    Who, then, hath failed? 'Tis he whose deeds
    Scorn truth and right; who hears nor heeds
    Our fear, our faith, or wrath, or love.
    Whose iron ambition strives above
    All measures of all good and ill;
    A frenzied ego with a poisoned will;
    Who gains his joy, his life, his light
    In triumphs of a monstrous might!
    Though 'neath a world-wide power his shame be veiled,
    He, he, hath failed!

  6. Keep a-Goin

    by Frank L. Stanton

    If you strike a thorn or rose,
    Keep a-goin'!
    If it hails, or if it snows,
    Keep a-goin!
    'Taint no use to sit an' whine,
    When the fish ain't on yer line;
    Bait yer hook an' keep a-tryin'—
    Keep a-goin'!

    When the weather kills yer crop,
    Keep a-goin'!
    When you tumble from the top,
    Keep a-goin'!
    S'pose you're out of every dime,
    Bein' so ain't any crime;
    Tell the world you're feelin' prime—
    Keep a-goin'!

    When it looks like all is up,
    Keep a-goin'!
    Drain the sweetness from the cup,
    Keep a-goin'!
    See the wild birds on the wing,
    Hear the bells that sweetly ring,
    When you feel like sighin' sing—
    Keep a-goin'!

  7. God Will Count Your Honest Try

    by William Henry Dawson

    If in life's great, onward battle
    You have done your best and lost,
    If amid the din and rattle
    You regarded not the cost,
    If you met your foeman bravely,
    If you dared to do or die,
    God will credit you, most surely,
    For your fearless, honest try.

    Have you sometimes felt discouraged,
    Felt that life had lost its charm,
    And that every effort failed you,
    Bringing to you only harm?
    Look within and ask this question:
    "Have I done my level best?"
    If you answer, without guessing,
    "Yes," then God will do the rest.

    Has this neighbor won more glory?
    That one more of earthly store?
    Though your hair is thin and hoary,
    Are you poorer than before?
    Have you helped, with hands quite willing?
    Have you heard the orphan's cry?
    Given part of your last shilling?
    God will count your honest try.

  8. Purpose

    by Anonymous

    Deeply and long the sap must flow
    Ere the merest layer of elm can grow.

    Many a wave's recurrent shock
    Is needed to smooth the tiniest rock.

    Thousands of leaves must fade and fall
    To make the mold by the garden wall.

    Thus, as the patient seasons roll,
    Slowly is fashioned a human soul.

    Purpose and failure and purpose still,
    Steadily moved by a quiet will,—

    Layer on layer in sturdy way,
    Hardly seen the growth of a day,—

    Times of failure and fear and fall,
    But one strong tendency through it all,—

    God and purpose and sun by sun
    Reach the stars before they are done!

  9. The Boy Who Didn't Pass

    He is the one who most needs love, the boy who didn't pass.

    - Anonymous
    The Boy Who Didn't Pass
    by Anonymous

    A sad-faced little fellow sits alone in deep disgrace,
    There's a lump arising in his throat, tears streaming down his face;
    He wandered from his playmates, for he doesn't want to hear
    Their shouts of merry laughter, since the world has lost its cheer;
    He has sipped the cup of sorrow, he has drained the bitter glass,
    And his heart is fairly breaking; he's the boy who didn't pass.

    In the apple tree the robin sings a cheery little song,
    But he doesn't seem to hear it, showing plainly something's wrong;
    Comes his faithful little spaniel for a romp and bit of play,
    But the troubled little fellow sternly bids him go away.
    All alone he sits in sorrow, with his hair a tangled mass,
    And his eyes are red with weeping; he's the boy who didn't pass.

    How he hates himself for failing, he can hear his playmates jeer,
    For they've left him with the dullards—gone ahead a half a year,
    And he tried so hard to conquer, oh, he tried to do his best,
    But now he knows, he's weaker, yes, and duller than the rest.
    He's ashamed to tell his mother, for he thinks she'll hate him, too—
    The little boy who didn't pass, who failed of getting through.

    Oh, you who boast a laughing son, and speak of him as bright,
    And you who love a little girl who comes to you at night
    With smiling eyes, with dancing feet, with honors from her school,
    Turn to that lonely little boy who thinks he is a fool,
    And take him kindly by the hand, the dullest in his class,
    He is the one who most needs love, the boy who didn't pass.

  10. The Singing Lesson

    by Jean Ingelow NOTE.—The nightingale is a small bird, about six inches in length, with a coat of dark-brown feathers above and of grayish, white beneath. Its voice is astonishingly strong and sweet, and, when wild, it usually sings throughout the evening and night from April to the middle of summer. The bird is common in Europe, but is not found in America.

    A nightingale made a mistake;
    She sang a few notes out of tune:
    Her heart was ready to break,
    And she hid away from the moon.
    She wrung her claws, poor thing,
    But was far too proud to weep;
    She tucked her head under her wing,
    And pretended to be asleep.

    A lark, arm in arm with a thrush,
    Came sauntering up to the place;
    The nightingale felt herself blush,
    Though feathers hid her face;
    She knew they had heard her song,
    She felt them snicker and sneer;
    She thought that life was too long,
    And wished she could skip a year.

    "O nightingale!" cooed a dove;
    "O nightingale! what's the use?
    You bird of beauty and love,
    Why behave like a goose?
    Don't sulk away from our sight,
    Like a common, contemptible fowl;
    You bird of joy and delight,
    Why behave like an owl?

    "Only think of all you have done;
    Only think of all you can do;
    A false note is really fun
    From such a bird as you!
    Lift up your proud little crest,
    Open your musical beak;
    Other birds have to do their best,
    You need only to speak!"

    The nightingale shyly took
    Her head from under her wing,
    And, giving the dove a look,
    Straightway began to sing.
    There was never a bird could pass;
    The night was divinely calm;
    And the people stood on the grass
    To hear that wonderful psalm.

    The nightingale did not care,
    She only sang to the skies;
    Her song ascended there,
    And there she fixed her eyes.
    The people that stood below
    She knew but little about;
    And this tale has a moral, I know,
    If you'll try and find it out.

  11. The Gift of Empty Hands

    True treasure is not lightly won.

    - S. M. B. Piatt
    The Gift of Empty Hands
    S. M. B. Piatt

    They were two princes doomed to death;
    Each loved his beauty and his breath:
    "Leave us our life and we will bring
    Fair gifts unto our lord, the king."

    They went together. In the dew
    A charmed bird before them flew.
    Through sun and thorn one followed it;
    Upon the other's arm it lit.

    A rose, whose faintest flush was worth
    All buds that ever blew on earth,
    One climbed the rocks to reach; ah, well,
    Into the other's breast it fell.

    Weird jewels, such as fairies wear,
    When moons go out, to light their hair,
    One tried to touch on ghostly ground;
    Gems of quick fire the other found.

    One with the dragon fought to gain
    The enchanted fruit, and fought in vain;
    The other breathed the garden's air
    And gathered precious apples there.

    Backward to the imperial gate
    One took his fortune, one his fate:
    One showed sweet gifts from sweetest lands,
    The other, torn and empty hands.

    At bird, and rose, and gem, and fruit,
    The king was sad, the king was mute;
    At last he slowly said: "My son,
    True treasure is not lightly won.

    Your brother's hands, wherein you see
    Only these scars, show more to me
    Than if a kingdom's price I found
    In place of each forgotten wound."

  12. Begin a Year To-Day!

    by Amos Russel Wells

    On New Year's day you started in
    With heart of grace absolved from sin,
    With forward look, with purpose true,
    And all the world was fair to you.

    But soon the devil found a crack
    And pierced your armor, front or back;
    And soon, your conduct past excuse,
    You sadly cried, "Oh, what's the use?"

    Brother! the wheelings of the sun
    In endless hopeful circles run;
    They sweep serenely through the air,
    And you may start from anywhere.

    For common use we count the year
    From one sole point in its career;
    But you, adopt a lordly tone,
    And fix a year that's all your own!

    Adopt this very day and hour
    As genesis of hope and power.
    Forget the failures left behind,
    And on the future fix your mind.

    Break with the follies of the past!
    Master your weaknesses at last!
    Stiffen your muscles! Watch and pray!
    Stoutly begin a year to-day!

  13. Who Killed the Plan?

    by Amos Russel Wells

    Who killed the Plan?
    "I," said the Critic,
    "I knew how to hit it,
    I killed the Plan."

    Who killed the Plan?
    "I," the Bore said,
    "I talked it dead,
    I killed the Plan."

    Who killed the Plan?
    "I," said the Sloth,
    "I lagged and was loth.
    And I killed the Plan."

    Who killed the Plan?
    "I," said Ambition,
    "With my selfish vision
    I killed the Plan."

    Who killed the Plan?
    "I," said the Crank,
    "With my nonsense rank
    I killed the Plan."

  14. Philosophy

    by Emily Dickinson

    It might be easier
    To fail with land in sight,
    Than gain my blue peninsula
    To perish of delight.

  15. The Past

    by Emily Dickinson

    The past is such a curious creature,
    To look her in the face
    A transport may reward us,
    Or a disgrace.

    Unarmed if any meet her,
    I charge him, fly!
    Her rusty ammunition
    Might yet reply!

  16. To hang our head ostensibly

    by Emily Dickinson

    To hang our head ostensibly,
    And subsequent to find
    That such was not the posture
    Of our immortal mind,

    Affords the sly presumption
    That, in so dense a fuzz,
    You, too, take cobweb attitudes
    Upon a plane of gauze!

  17. Adventurer's Luck

    by James W. Whilt

    Did you ever go a-trapping
    Where you knew the fur was plenty,
    Where a year ago you could have
    Made a bunch of "jack"?
    Next fall you got in early,
    Built your cabin in a hurry,—
    Then didn't even find a weasel track?

    Did you ever go prospecting
    Where the gold was found in millions,
    And even every musher
    Had made a pile of wealth?
    And you worked just like a beaver
    Cause you felt you couldn't leave 'er,
    And all you got was badly broken health?

    Did you ever go a-fishing
    When the weather,—it was perfect!
    And you gathered up your tackle
    And had it fixed just right:
    And you whipped the streams and bait-fished
    And maybe swore a little,
    And then you never even got a bite?

    Did you ever go a-hunting
    When the woods were damp and gloomy,
    Where everything was stillness
    And everywhere a trail,
    And you traveled over ridges,
    Through the hollows, round the ledges
    And then you never even glimpsed a tail?

    But such is luck I find it,
    And the fellow who stays by it
    Will at last succeed and win the day:
    Be he trapper, or prospector,
    Be he fisherman, or hunter,
    I have always found it
    That it's pluck that wins the day.

  18. I Will Be Worthy of It

    by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

    I may not reach the heights I seek,
    My untried strength may fail me;
    Or, half-way up the mountain peak,
    Fierce tempests may assail me.
    But though that place I never gain,
    Herein lies comfort for my pain—
    I will be worthy of it.

    I may not triumph in success,
    Despite my earnest labor;
    I may not grasp results that bless
    The efforts of my neighbor;
    But though my goal I never see
    This thought shall always dwell with me—
    I will be worthy of it.

    The golden glory of Love's light
    May never fall on my way;
    My path may always lead through night,
    Like some deserted by-way;
    But though life's dearest joy I miss
    There lies a nameless strength in this—
    I will be worthy of it.

  19. His Other Chance

    by Edgar A. Guest

    He was down and out, and his pluck was gone,
    And he said to me in a gloomy way:
    "I've wasted my chances, one by one,
    And I'm just no good, as the people say.
    Nothing ahead, and my dreams all dust,
    Though once there was something I might have been,
    But I wasn't game, and I broke my trust,
    And I wasn't straight and I wasn't clean."

    "You're pretty low down," says I to him,
    "But nobody's holding you there, my friend.
    Life is a stream where men sink or swim,
    And the drifters come to a sorry end;
    But there's two of you living and breathing still—
    The fellow you are, and he's tough to see,
    And another chap, if you've got the will,
    The man that you still have a chance to be."

    He laughed with scorn. "Is there two of me?
    I thought I'd murdered the other one.
    I once knew a chap that I hoped to be,
    And he was decent, but now he's gone."
    "Well," says I, "it may seem to you
    That life has little of joy in store,
    But there's always something you still can do,
    And there's never a man but can try once more.

  20. At Appomattox

    Carl Holliday

    What shall we say? Was it at last defeat
    That leader of the weary army gained?
    When those two knights of North and South did meet
    Upon that final field with blood so stained,
    Was one the vanquished, one the victor there?
    O patriots, no; on that sad day of peace
    There was no sign of conquest anywhere,
    But only two great hearts content to cease
    The strife and live at peace, the battle done.
    And who was greater of the twain that day?
    Ah, ask not that. One lost, the other won;
    Each followed his ideal all the way.
    It matters little if we win not goals,
    But much how goals are kept before our souls.

  21. Old and New

    by Anonymous

    We are passing another mile-stone,
    Another school-year’s done;
    One more chapter of life is written
    A few more threads are spun.

    Life’s a journey, a school, a story,
    Our best it doth demand;
    ’Tis a fabric; it should be woven
    With steadfast heart and hand.

    But we’ve faltered, half learned our lessons,
    The story who will read?
    And we’ve carelessly marred life’s texture,
    A record poor indeed.

    Yet our errors, our failures shall be
    At length our best success;
    If we store up their choicest teachings'
    For future helpfulness.

    We have trodden the old year’s pathway,
    We enter on the new;
    God hath brightened them both with mercies,
    To Him all praise is due.

    Let us study the matchless story,
    The life-work of His son,
    Till the volume of life is finished,
    Until the web is spun.

    28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

    – Romans 8:28
  22. Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes

    William Shakespeare

    When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
    I all alone beweep my outcast state,
    And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
    And look upon myself and curse my fate,
    Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
    Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
    Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
    With what I most enjoy contented least;
    Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
    Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
    (Like to the lark at break of day arising
    From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

  23. Life's Tragedy

    by Paul Laurence Dunbar

    It may be misery not to sing at all,
    And to go silent through the brimming day;
    It may be misery never to be loved,
    But deeper griefs than these beset the way.

    To sing the perfect song,
    And by a half-tone lost the key,
    There the potent sorrow, there the grief,
    The pale, sad staring of Life's Tragedy.

    To have come near to the perfect love,
    Not the hot passion of untempered youth,
    But that which lies aside its vanity,
    And gives, for thy trusting worship, truth.

    This, this indeed is to be accursed,
    For if we mortals love, or if we sing,
    We count our joys not by what we have,
    But by what kept us from that perfect thing.

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