Wednesday, February 04, 2009


How Do You Tackle Your Work Each Day?

Benjamin DeCasseres, "The Complete American," The American Mercury (February, 1927), VIII (Edgar A. Guest):
No hearth, no American. No home, no mother?—you are not Nordic. Lead, kindly window-lamp. It is snowing outside. A one-hundred-per-center's foot slipped while he was fighting the foreign bootleggers as secretary to the local Anti-Saloon League. He is returning from Sing-Sing. It is snowing outside. But the lamp is in the window for him and his old mother waits, waits for the return of the hundred-per-center with the poems of Edgar A. Guest on her knee.

For Edgar Guest (only atheists call him Eddie) is also an avatar. He is Virtue, Kindness and Goodness, such as only we real Americans know those qualities. He is the American Love of Decency—the Cerberus that guards against the great Blond Beast, against the sex-prickings of jazz, against the Seven Deadly Pleasures.

Guest is the upsprung backbone of middle-class morality. Rome fell and Greece was blotted out, and Sodom and Gomorrah slid into Gehenna because they had no Edgar Guest.
Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959) was a popular versifier, newspaper writer, and radio personality. Here is a sample of his "inspirational" verse:
How do you tackle your work each day?
  Are you scared of the job you find?
Do you grapple the task that comes your way
  With a confident, easy mind?
Do you stand right up to the work ahead
  Or fearfully pause to view it?
Do you start to toil with a sense of dread?
  Or feel that you're going to do it?

You can do as much as you think you can,
  But you'll never accomplish more;
If you're afraid of yourself, young man,
  There's little for you in store.
For failure comes from the inside first,
  It's there if we only knew it,
And you can win, though you face the worst,
  If you feel that you're going to do it.

Success! It's found in the soul of you,
  And not in the realm of luck!
The world will furnish the work to do,
  But you must provide the pluck.
You can do whatever you think you can,
  It's all in the way you view it.
It's all in the start you make, young man:
  You must feel that you're going to do it.

How do you tackle your work each day?
  With confidence clear, or dread?
What to yourself do you stop and say
  When a new task lies ahead?
What is the thought that is in your mind?
  Is fear ever running through it?
If so, just tackle the next you find
  By thinking you're going to do it.
Franklin P. Adams (1881-1960), also a poet, newspaper columnist (his column was called The Conning Tower), and radio personality, wrote a parody of Guest's poem, which I find more inspirational than the original:
I tackle my terrible job each day
  With a fear that is well defined;
And I grapple the task that comes my way
  With no confidence in my mind.
I try to evade the work ahead,
  As I fearfully pause to view it,
And I start to toil with a sense of dread,
  And doubt that I'm going to do it.

I can't do as much as I think I can,
  And I never accomplish more.
I am scared to death of myself, old man,
  As I may have observed before.
I've read the proverbs of Charley Schwab,
  Carnegie, and Marvin Hughitt;
But whenever I tackle a difficult job,
  O gosh! I hate to do it!

I try to believe in my vaunted power
  With that confident kind of bluff,
But somebody tells me The Conning Tower
  Is nothing but awful stuff.
And I take up my impotent pen that night,
  And idly and sadly chew it,
As I try to write something merry and bright,
  And I know that I shall not do it.

And that's how I tackle my work each day—
  With terror and fear and dread—
And all I can see is a long array
  Of empty columns ahead.
And those are the thoughts that are in my mind,
  And that's about all there's to it.
As long as there's work, of whatever kind,
  I'm certain I cannot do it.
Related post: Tell Me Not.

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