Success Is Failure Turned Inside Out

John Greenleaf Whittier? Edgar Guest? Labor? Nellie Maxwell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular poem about perseverance includes these lines:

When all is pressing you down a bit—
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

The poets John Greenleaf Whittier and Edgar A. Guest have both been credited. Would you please determine the actual author?

Quote Investigator: Edgar A. Guest was a very popular poet for several decades during the twentieth century, and his poems appeared in a syndicated newspaper column. On March 3, 1921 he published the following work: 1

Keep Going

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must—but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up, though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.

During the decades after publication the work was broadly disseminated, but the attribution was often changed. In addition, words, phrases, and stanzas were sometimes altered or deleted.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




The syndicated column with Guest’s poem first appeared on the same day in “The Indianapolis Star” of Indianapolis, Indiana, the “Elmira Star-Gazette” of Elmira, New York, 2 “The Ogden Standard-Examiner” of Ogden, Utah, 3 and many other newspapers.

In January 1922 the poem appeared in the “New Ulm Review” of New Ulm, Minnesota, 4 but Edgar Guest was not mentioned; instead, “Labor” of Washington D.C received acknowledgment.

In 1931 “The Courier-News” of Plainfield, New Jersey printed only the first stanza and did not credit Guest. Also, the phrase “have to sigh” was changed to “heave a sigh”: 5

In the Cupboard
By Nellie Maxwell

“When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you heave a sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must—but don’t you quit.”

In 1945 the “Naugatuck Daily News” Naugatuck, Connecticut omitted the third stanza while printing the other three. The work was retitled “Life” and ascribed to by Genevieve Pajeski. 6

In 1973 “A Speaker’s Treasury for Educators, Convocation Speakers, Baccalaureate Speakers, and Others” compiled by Herbert V. Prochnow printed a slightly altered one stanza version without attribution: 7

When Things Go Wrong

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, when the road you’re trudging seems all uphill; when funds are low and debts are high, and you want to smile, but you sit and sigh; when care is pressing you down a bit, rest, if you must, but don’t you quit!

In 2014 the website “Your Daily Poem” shared a version of the verse under the title “Don’t Quit”. The length was shortened to three stanzas and eighteen lines. The phrase “Life is queer” was changed to “Life is strange”. John Greenleaf Whittier received credit. 8

In conclusion, Edgar A. Guest should receive credit for the poem he published in March 1921. Over the years, the poem has been altered repeatedly. It has also been incorrectly reassigned to other individuals or labeled anonymous.

Image Notes: Picture of person facing a wall obstacle by mikefoster at Pixabay. Picture of person climbing a mountain by Unsplash at Pixabay. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Earl E. Appleby Jr. and Doug Lima whose tweets led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1921 March 3, The Indianapolis Star, Just Folks by Edgar A. Guest (Syndicated), Quote Page 6, Column 4, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1921 March 3, Elmira Star-Gazette, Just Folks by Edgar A. Guest (Syndicated) Quote Page 6, Column 3, Elmira, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1921 March 3, The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Just Folks by Edgar A. Guest (Syndicated), Quote Page 5, Column 3, Ogden, Utah. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1922 January 4, New Ulm Review, Don’t Quit! (Acknowledgement to Labor, Washington D.C.) Quote Page 2, Column 2, New Ulm, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1931 April 8, The Courier-News, In the Cupboard by Nellie Maxwell, Quote Page 15, Column 3, Plainfield, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1945 July 26, Naugatuck Daily News, Round the Clock: Life by Genevieve Pajeski, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Naugatuck, Connecticut. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1973, A Speaker’s Treasury for Educators, Convocation Speakers, Baccalaureate Speakers, and Others, Compiled by Herbert V. Prochnow, Quote Page 148, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Verified on paper)
  8. Website: Your Daily Poem, Poem title: Don’t Quit, Poem attribution: John Greenleaf Whittier, Date of first comment website: April 27, 2014, Website description: Website goal is to share the pleasure of poetry. (Accessed yourdailypoem.com on February 4, 2014) link