Happy Labor Day!


Poetry Selections for Labor Day
A collection of poems related to work and working

Always Finish | The Bridge Builder | Can't | I Can |
I Hear America Singing |
It Couldn't Be Done
 | Not in Vain | Psalm of Life |
Psalm of Those Who Go Forth Before Daylight |
Results and Roses | Sonnet XIX: On His Blindness
| They Earned the Right |
They Who Tread the Path of Labor | Tomorrow |
The Village Blacksmith



ALWAYS FINISH
     Anonymous

If a task is once begun,
Never leave it till it's done.
Be the labor great or small,
Do it well or not at all.

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THE BRIDGE BUILDER
     Will Allen Dromgoole

An old man going a lone highway
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and wide and steep,
With waters rolling cold and deep.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim near,
"You are wasting your strength with building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way.
You've crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build you this bridge at eventide?

The builder lifted his old gray head.
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
The chasm that was nought to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.

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CAN'T
     Edgar Guest

Can't is the worst word that's written or spoken;
Doing more harm here than slander and lies;
On it is many a strong spirit broken,
And with it many a good purpose dies.
It springs from the lips of the thoughtless each morning
And robs us of courage we need through the day:
It rings in our ears like a timely-sent warning
And laughs when we falter and fall by the way.

Can't is the father of feeble endeavor,
The parent of terror and half-hearted work;
It weakens the efforts of artisans clever,
And makes of the toiler an indolent shirk.
It poisons the soul of the man with a vision,
It stifles in infancy many a plan;
It greets honest toiling with open derision
And mocks at the hopes and the dreams of a man.

Can't is a word none should speak without blushing;
To utter it should be a symbol of shame;
Ambition and courage it daily is crushing;
It blights a man's purpose and shortens his aim.
Despise it with all of your hatred of error;
Refuse it the lodgment it seeks in your brain;
Arm against it as a creature of terror,
And all that you dream of you some day shall gain.

Can't is the word that is foe to ambition,
An enemy ambushed to shatter your will;
Its prey is forever the man with a mission
And bows but to courage and patience and skill.
Hate it, with hatred that's deep and undying,
For once it is welcomed 'twill break any man;
Whatever the goal you are seeking, keep trying
And answer this demon by saying: "I can."

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I CAN
     Ralph Waldo Emerson

So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can.

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I HEAR AMERICA SINGING
     Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day-at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

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IT COULDN'T BE DONE
     Edgar Guest

Somebody said it couldn't be done,
     But he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn't," but he would be one
     Who wouldn't say so till he'd tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
     On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing and he tackled the thing
     That couldn't be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you'll never do that;
     At least no one has ever done it";
But he took off his coat and he took of his hat,
     And the first thing we knew he'd begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
     Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing and he tackled the thing
     That couldn't be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
     There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
     The dangers that wait to assailyou.
But just buckle in with a bit of a girn,
     Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
     That "cannot be done," and you'll do it.

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NOT IN VAIN
     Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

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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 pursuing,
   Learn to labor and to wait.

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PSALM OF THOSE WHO GO FORTH BEFORE DAYLIGHT
     Carl Sandburg

The policeman buys shoes slow and careful; the teamster buys gloves slow and careful; they take care of their feet and hands; they live on their feet and hands.

The milkman never argues; he works alone and no one speaks to him; the city is asleep when he is on the job; he puts a bottle on six hundred porches and calls it a day's work; he climbs two hundred wooden stairways; two horses are company for him; he never argues.

The rolling-mill men and the sheet-steel men are brothers of cinders; they empty cinders out of their shoes after the day's work; they ask their wives to fix burnt holes in the knees of their trousers; their necks and ears are covered with a smut; they scour their necks and ears; they are brothers of cinders.

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RESULTS AND ROSES
     Edgar Guest

The man who wants a garden fair,
    Or small or very big,
With flowers growing here and there,
    Must bend his back and dig.

The things are mighty few on earth
    That wishes can attain.
Whate'er we want of any worth
    We've got to work to gain.

It matters not what goal you seek
    Its secret here reposes:
You've got to dig from week to week
    To get Results or Roses.

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SONNET XIX: ON HIS BLINDNESS
     John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask; But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."

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THEY EARNED THE RIGHT
     Edgar A. Guest

I knew Ket and Knudsen, Zeller, Zeder and Breer.
I knew Henry Ford back yonder as a lightplant engineer.
I'm a knew-'em-when companion who frequently recalls
That none of the those big brothers were too proud for overalls.

All the Fishers, all the leaders, all the motion pioneers
Worked at molds or lathes or benches at the start of their careers.
Chrysler, Keller, Nash and others whom I could but now won't name
Had no high-falutin' notion ease and softness led to fame.

They had work to do and did it. Did it bravely, did it right,
Never thinking it important that their collars should be white.
Never counted hours of labor, never wished their tasks to cease,
And for years their two companions were those brothers, dirt and grease.

Boy, this verse is fact, not fiction, all the fellows I have named
Worked for years for wages and were never once ashamed.
Dirt and grease were their companions, better friends than linen white;
Better friends than ease and softness, golf or dancing every night.

Now in evening clothes you see them in the nation's banquet halls.
But they earned the right to be there, years ago, in overalls.

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THEY WHO TREAD THE PATH OF LABOR
     Henry Van Dyke

They who tread the path of labor follow where My feet have trod;
They who work without complaining, do the holy will of God;
Nevermore thou needest seek Me; I am with thee everywhere;
Raise the stone, and thou shalt find Me, clease the wood and I am there.

Where the many toil together, there am I among My own;
Where the tired workman sleepeth, there am I with him alone:
I, the Peace that passeth knowledge, dwell amid the daily strife;
I, the Bread of Heav'n am broken in the sacrement of life.

Every task, however simple, sets the soul that does it free;
Every deed of love and mercy, done to man is done to Me.
Nevermore thou needest seek Me; I am with thee everywhere;
Raise the stone, and thou shalt find Me; cleave the wood, and I am there.

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TOMORROW
     Edgar Guest

He was going to be all that a mortal should be
           Tomorrow.
No one should be kinder or braver than he
           Tomorrow.
A friend who was troubled and weary he knew,
Who'd be glad of a lift and who needed it, too;
On him he would call and see what he could do
           Tomorrow.

Each morning he stacked up the letters he'd write
           Tomorrow.
And thought of the folks he would fill with delight
           Tomorrow.
It was too bad, indeed, he was busy today,
And hadn't a minute to stop on his way;
More time he would have to give others, he'd say,
           Tomorrow.

The greatest of workers this man would have been
           Tomorrow.
The world would have known him, had he ever seen
           Tomorrow.
But the fact is he died and he faded from view,
And all that he left here when living was through
Was a mountain of things he intended to do
           Tomorrow.

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THE VILLAGE BLACKSMITH
     Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Toiling,---rejoicing,---sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

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