“The Man You Might Have Been” [poem by Grant Hervey]

[Editor: This poem by Grant Hervey was published in Australians Yet and Other Verses, 1913.]

“The Man You Might Have Been”

There’s a fearsome lot of pages filled by pessimistic sages —
Men who sing glad songs no longer, but deplore the festive scene ;
And these scribes are all explaining, like a grey sky when it’s raining,
What very wondrous characters they really might have been.
It was Drink, they say, that did it ; but I’m game to bet a quid it
Was a sort of spinal sinkage that wrought all the grievous work ;
And opine that every writer should remain a cheerful fighter —
He should be a gladsome mixture of the Devil and the Turk !
What’s the use of dismal whinings ? — fit your soul with cast-steel linings —
Turn your face toward your troubles and untwist their tangled skein ;
Fix a cheerful eye upon it, write no tearful, sodden sonnet,
And, for Satan’s sake, don’t maunder re the “Man You Might Have Been !”

It’s the Man You’ll Be that matters, though you tramp around in tatters,
But the road to fame and fortune isn’t paved with grief and beer ;
It is paved with grim endeavour — you must make it now or never,
Disregarding puny insects who arise at times and sneer !
Let your pale obituary in the pathless future tarry —
Don’t announce that you’re a failure till you’re quite completely dead ;
Let some other person curse you — when you’re riding in the hearse, you
Can depend they’ll speak your epitaph above your grassy bed.
While there’s life there’s hope, remember — sedulously fan that ember —
You may make a bigger blaze yet than the world has ever seen ;
Dig your claws in, scratch grim gravel — make the chips and splinters travel —
But prevent your mind from dwelling on the “Man You Might Have Been !”

Glue your thoughts upon the future — like the bull-ant, you must root your
Path toward the distant object where your heart’s ambition lies ;
Cut the cords of sloth that bind you ; throw the useless doubts behind you —
Graft like all Gehenna’s forces published in one human guise !
Are you hopeless, are you sodden, are you coinless and downtrodden ? —
On the affluent tide of triumph you may roll exalted yet ;
But you won’t get there by wailing ; if you’re beer-logged, get to baling —
For success is only captured by the brain’s emphatic sweat !
That’s the secret, that the gist o’ ’t — if you want to make a fist o’ ’t.
You must march with steadfast purpose towards the final victory ;
What you “Might Have Been” is nothing — heave despair away with loathing —
Keep your eye fixed on the features of the Man You’re Going to Be !

Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 27-29

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