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Life Engineering, a motivational, scientific self-help website to help you overcome your past and achieve success in life

William Earnest Henley

The story

The British boyWilliam Ernest Henley contracted tuberculosis of the bone when he was just 12 years old.  He suffered from the disease until he was 25.  Bythen it had progressed all the way to his foot.  13 years.

The doctors then told him that they would have to remove his most severely infected leg immediately, and that if he were to survive, they would need to remove the other one as well.

A strong willed person, he gave the doctors permission to remove just one leg, to the knee, but that he was keeping his other leg.

In 1875, at the age of 25 he wrote Invictus from his hospital bed, the perfect expression of his response to the challenges of life.

Invictus is Latin for “undefeated”.

Invictus

by William Earnest 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 bludgeoning 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.

Nelson Mandela

the rest of the story

Henley went on to live an active, productive life as a poet.  He kept his other leg.

While imprisoned on Robben Island Prison, where he was incarcerated for 27 years, Nelson Mandela (who later served as President of South Africa, and won the Nobel Peace Prize) recited the poem to himself and other prisoners as a way to bolster their spirits, and motivate them to press onward.  He felt empowered by the message of self mastery.

Self mastery

in overcoming adversity

Life is necessarily filled with challenges.  And thank goodness.  How boring it would be otherwise.  But while we can’t control the cards that are dealt us, what we CAN control is how we react to those events.

Will they be events that give us strength?  Will they give us wisdom?  Will they teach us patience?  Perseverance? Will they give us empathy for others?

Much good can come from things that seem so bad.  Life’s greatest opportunities are often hidden in adversity.

But transforming life’s challenges into positive self-propellants takes self-mastery.  Regardless what life gives us, we must remember “I am the master of my fate.  I am the captain of my soul.”

Rusty

Life Engineering, a motivational, scientific self-help website to help you overcome your past and achieve success in life

Today I wanted to share with you what has come to be my all-time favorite poem.

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 of 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 breath 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!

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Life Engineering, a motivational, scientific self-help website to help you overcome your past and achieve success in life

La Envoi
Rudyard Kipling

When Earths last  picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critics have died
Then faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an eon or two
Till the master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew.

Then all who were good will be happy
They will sit in a golden chair
And splash at a ten legue canvas
With brushes of comets hair
We shall have real saints to draw from
Magdalene Peter, and Paul
We shall work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all

And only the Master shall praise us
And only the Master shall blame
Then no one will work for money
And no one will work for fame
But each for the joy of the working
And each in his separate star
Shall draw the thing as he sees it
For the master of things as they are.

Life Engineering, a motivational, scientific self-help website to help you overcome your past and achieve success in life

‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought
it was hardlyworth his while
to waste much time with the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.

“Give me a dollar, and who’ll make it two?
Only two dollars. Who’ll make it three?
Three dollars twice and that’s a good price,
but who’s got a bid for me?

The air was hot and the people just stood
as the sun was setting low.
Then from the back of the crowd a gray-haired man
came forward and picked up the bow.

He wiped the dust from the old violin,
and he tightened up the strings.
Then he played out a melody,
pure and sweet as the angels sing.

The music ended and the auctioneer,
with a voice that was quiet and low,
said “what is my bid for the old violin?”,
and he held it up with the bow.

“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Only two thousand, who’ll make it three?”
Three thousand twice, that’s a good price,
but who’s got a bid for me?”

And the people called out, “what made the change?
We don’t understand.”
So the auctioneer stopped and said with a smile,
“’twas the touch of the master’s hand.”

Now many a man and his life out of tune
is battered and scarred with sin.
And he’s auctioned cheap to a thankless world,
much like the old violin.

But then the master comes and the foolish crowd,
they never understand
the worth of a soul or the change that is wrought
by the touch of the master’s hand.

author unknown

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Faith
Edgar A. Guest

It is faith that bridges the land of breath
To the realms of the souls departed,
That comforts the living in days of death,
And strengthens the heavy-hearted.

It is faith in his dreams that keeps a man
Face front to the odds about him,
And he shall conquer who thinks he can,
In spite of the throngs who doubt him.

Each must stand in the court of life
And pass through the hours of trial;
He shall be tested by the rules of strife,
And tried for his self-denial.

Time shall bruise his soul with the loss of friends,
And frighten him with disaster;
But he shall find when the anguish ends
That, of all things, faith is master.

So keep your faith in the God above,
And faith in the righteous truth,
It shall bring you back to the absent love,
And the joys of a vanished youth.

You shall smile once more when your tears are dried,
meet trouble and swiftly rout it,
For faith is the strength of the soul inside,
And lost is the man without it.

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The Spider and the Fly,
a fable, by Mary Howitt

“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly;
“‘Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you did spy.
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I have many pretty things to show when you are there.”

“O no, no,” said the little fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”

“I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?” said the spider to the fly.
“There are pretty curtains drawn around, the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I’ll snugly tuck you in.”

“O no, no,” said the little fly, “for I’ve often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed.”

Said the cunning spider to the fly, “Dear friend, what shall I do,
To prove the warm affection I’ve always felt for you?
I have within my pantry good store of all that’s nice;
I’m sure you’re very welcome; will you please to take a slice?”

“O no, no,” said the little fly, “kind sir, that cannot be;
I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see.”

“Sweet creature!” said the spider, “you’re witty and you’re wise,
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I have a little looking-glass upon my parlor shelf,
If you’ll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.”

“I thank you, gentle sir,” she said, “for what you’re pleased to say,
And bidding you good-morning now, I’ll call another day.”

The spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly fly would soon be back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready to dine upon the fly.

Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
“Come hither, hither, pretty fly, with the pearl and silver wing:
Your robes are green and purple; there’s a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead.”

Alas, alas! How very soon this silly little fly,
Hearing his wily flattering words, came slowly flitting by.

With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue;
Thinking only of her crested head-poor foolish thing!  At last,
Up jumped the cunning spider, and fiercely held her fast.

He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlor; but she ne’er came out again!

And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly, flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed;
Unto an evil counselor close heart, and ear, and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale of the Spider and the Fly.

Rusty

Margaret added a poem to the comments over on the “That’s not my job” post (with the funny images of prime examples of this pervasive mindset).  I thought it warrented it’s own post.  Thanks Margaret

That’s Not My Job
By Author Unknown

This is a story told about four people named, Somebody, Everybody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was one important job to be done.

Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about it because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it. Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

P.S.  If anybody knows the author of this poem, please let me know so I can give them due credit.  They deserve it.

Rusty

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Keep a-Goin’
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 your line;
Bait your hook an’ keep a-tryin’—
Keep a-goin’!

When the weather kills your crop,
Keep a-goin’!
Though ‘tis work to reach the top,
Keep a-goin’!
S’pose you’re our o’ ev’ry dime,
Gittin’ broke 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 surgin’, sing—
Keep a-goin’!

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Be Strong
Maltbie Davenport Babcock

Be strong,
we are not here to play, to dream to drift
we have hard work to do, and loads to lift
shun not the struggle, face it, ’tis Gods gift.

Be strong,
say not the days are evil, who’s to blame
and fold the hands of aquiesce, oh shame
stand up, speak out, and boldly in Gods name.

Be strong,
It matters not how deep entrenched the wrong
how hard the battle goes, the day how long
faint not, fight on, tomorrow comes the song.

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I am a child of royal birth
Anna Johnson

I am a child of royal birth
My Father is King of heaven and earth
My spirit was born in the courts on high
A child beloved a princess (prince) am I 

I’ve always loved this poem, because of its simple statement of value of the worth of a soul, and the implications that we (as royalty) are capable of greatness.

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A Psalm of Life
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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 tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

 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 persuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

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In association with “It is what you make of it” and “The Builders“, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, here’s another beautiful poem supporting the same point.

Life Sculpture
George Washington Doane

Chisel in hand stood a sculptor boy
With his marble block before him,
And his eyes lit up with a smile of joy,
As an angel-dream passed o’er him.

He carved the dream on that shapeless stone,
With many a sharp incision;
With heaven’s own light the sculpture shone,–
He’d caught that angel-vision.

Children of life are we, as we stand
With our lives uncarved before us,
Waiting the hour when, at God’s command,
Our life-dream shall pass o’er us. 

If we carve it then on the yielding stone,
With many a sharp incision,
Its heavenly beauty shall be our own,–
Our lives, that angel-vision.

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In relationship with this post (What are you building?), the following poem is both enlightening and inspiring.

The Builders
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All are architects of fate,
Working in these walls of time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
some with ornaments of rhyme.

Nothing useless is, or low;
each thing in its place is best;
and what seems but idle show
strengthens and supports the rest.

For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
our todays and yesterdays
are the blocks with which we build.

Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
think not, because no man sees,
such things will remain unseen.

In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.

Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house where gods may dwell
Beautiful, entire, and clean.

Else our live are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Brokensatairways, where the feet
Stumble, as they seek to climb.

Build today, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall tomorrow find its place.

Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.

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I have this funny memory of when I was 10 years old.  I lived (at that time) in Marion Montana with my mom and second step-dad.  We had this aluminum wood shed out back, just between the house and the forest.

I spent a lot of time here, chopping firewood to keep the house warm.  One day I was outside and for some reason (I’m sure it wasn’t malicious), I stuck the ax into shed.  Just swung it over my head and “whump”, it sunk into the metal and left this huge hole. 

In awe over how cool that felt, I tried it again.  And again.  And again. 

Bored now, I stepped farther back, and tried now to throw the ax and make it stick.  Several times I succeeded, but I left some mark with each try.  Soon I was ducking and weaving like an Indian between trees, finding an opening, and swoosh… my ax would fly through the air and find the shed.  Yeah, okay, I was an idiot, and I must have looked ridiculous.

It sure was fun while it lasted.  But then it wasn’t so fun. 

Sometimes we do things that cause damage.  Sometimes it’s to ourselves, and sometimes it’s to others.  What matters most, is that you correct your course early and often, and rely on the Mercy of the Lord for the rest.

There’s a poem I’ve always loved that addresses it nicely:

Fools Prayer
Edward R. Sill

The royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: 
“Sir Fool,Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!”

The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.

 He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the monarch’s silken stool;
His pleading voice arose:  “O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

“No pity, Lord, could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin: 
but, Lord,Be merciful to me, a fool!

 ‘Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
‘Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.

 “These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend. 

“the ill-timed truth we might have kept-
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say-
Who knows how grandly it had rung? 

“Our faults no tenderness should ask,
the chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunder-oh, in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall. 

“Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!” 

The room was hushed; in silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
“Be merciful to me, a fool!”