Keep Your Face Always Towards the Sunshine, and the Shadows Will Fall Behind You

Helen Keller? Walt Whitman? Charles Swain? Celia Burleigh? Lydia G. Worth? Edmund Cooke? M. B. Whitman? Maori Proverb?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular metaphorical framework equates sunlight to positive situations and shadow to unfavorable conditions. Here are two instances of an adage about maintaining an optimistic perspective:

  • Turn your face to the sunshine and the shadows fall behind.
  • Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.

This notion has been credited to prominent poet Walt Whitman and to blind social activist Helen Keller. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that the ascription to Walt Whitman occurred because of a naming confusion error. First, a remark in this family was ascribed to M. B. Whitman by 1903. Second, by 1910 the remark was attributed to the single name Whitman without the initials. Third, Walt Whitman received credit by 1919.

A report in 1927 asserted that Helen Keller wrote an instance in an autograph album, but the saying was already in circulation. See detailed citations given further below.

QI conjectures that the saying evolved over time, and a significant nascency occurred in a verse by English poet Charles Swain published in “The Literary Gazette” of London in 1850. The poem “Youth and Age” employed the framework of sunlight and shadows mentioned above. The second verse which referred to youthful exuberance transitioning toward harsher maturity contained the core ideas of the saying under analysis in the two highlighted lines. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Thus, in the morn of life, our feet
Would distant pathways find;
The sun still face to face we meet—
The shadow falls behind!
But when the morn of life is o’er,
And nature grows less kind;
The length’ning shadow creeps before—
The sunlight falls behind!

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Keep Your Face Always Towards the Sunshine, and the Shadows Will Fall Behind You

Notes:

  1. 1850 March 16, The Literary Gazette, Original Poetry: Youth and Age by Charles Swain, Quote Page 205, Column 1, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link