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 collection. Poetry 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.
Source: Poems of Alice and Phoebe Cary (1849)
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.
Cover Image: Image from “Portrait gallery of eminent men and women of Europe and America. With biographies” (1872). Source: Flickr
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