Nobility – A Poem by Alice Cary

Nobility - A Poem by Alice Cary
This entry is part [part not set] of 15 in the series Poetry and Management

This 1849 poem by Alice Cary is widely quoted, especially for the line “For he who is honest is noble“. Nobility is a relevant topic in a moment where the United States consolidated their republican strengths. Yet, this poetry also adds a really thoughtful reading on general human qualities, such as kindness and truth, providing also inspiration on leadership qualities and work in general.

This is the ninth contribution to my Poetry & Management collectionPoetry has always been one of my favourite forms of expressions, probably one of the eclectic sides of my multipotentialite trait. I feel it can be really useful as support in our management and leadership quests, as it is probably one of the greatest tools of sense-making and self-expression. Which is why I will be sharing more of these over time.


True worth is in being, not seeming,— 
In doing, each day that goes by, 
Some little good—not in dreaming
Of great things to do by and by. 
For whatever men say in their blindness,
And spite of the fancies of youth, 

There’s nothing so kingly as kindness,
And nothing so royal as truth.
We get back our mete as we measure—
We cannot do wrong and feel right, 
Nor can we give pain and gain pleasure,
For justice avenges each slight. 
The air for the wing of the sparrow,
The bush for the robin and wren,
But always the path that is narrow
And straight, for the children of men.

‘Tis not in the pages of story 
The heart of its ills to beguile, 
Though he who makes courtship to glory
Gives all that he hath for her smile. 
For when from her heights he has won her,
Alas! it is only to prove 
That nothing’s so sacred as honor,
And nothing so loyal as love!

We cannot make bargains for blisses,
Nor catch them like fishes in nets; 
And sometimes the thing our life misses
Helps more than the thing which it gets.
For good lieth not in pursuing,
Nor gaining of great nor of small, 
But just in the doing, and doing
As we would be done by, is all.

Through envy, through malice, through hating,
Against the world, early and late.
No jot of our courage abating
Our part is to work and to wait
And slight is the sting of his trouble
Whose winnings are less than his worth.
For he who is honest is noble
Whatever his fortunes or birth.

Alice Cary

Source: Poems of Alice and Phoebe Cary (1849)

A Short Comment

A short poem, that however strongly refers to several great qualities of humankind. Nobility is not seen as a attribute linked to the fortunes of birth, but rather as something that is built on the hard work of people. For good lieth not in pursuing, / Nor gaining of great nor of small, / But just in the doing, and doing / As we would be done by, is all. A celebration of meaningful work, in conjunction with several human attributes. True worth is in being, not seeming, and this happens only through the practice of kindness, justice, truth, love. All elements that are key for the standing of people, as We cannot make bargains for blisses.

I have picked this poetry, despite its age, because it very simply refers to human qualities beyond status and privileges, in a form that overcomes rhetorical attitudes, and can be applied to contemporary discourses around status, hierarchy and value.

What do you think of this poem? Write a Comment below.

Sergio Caredda - Blog Signature

Cover Image: Image from “Portrait gallery of eminent men and women of Europe and America. With biographies” (1872). Source: Flickr

Series NavigationNo Leaders Please – A Poem by Charles Bukowski >>
  1. Avatar of John Houghton
    John Houghton

    Hi Sergio, I love the content of your site pages and am just learning who you are. How does your Christianity inform or influence your point of view?

  2. […] In this letter, he quotes the poem “Nobility” by Alice Cary. These are really good words for a young man… or actually, for everyone. I’m not sure whether I’ve ever heard or read this poem before, so I looked it up to see if I could find something about it. My favorite quote from it is probably “True worth is in being, not seeming.” Here is the interesting analysis of “Nobility” that I found, in case you want to read it for yourself: […]

Why not leaving a comment?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: