This lovely poem called “Don’t Quit” has always inspired me on my bad days ever since I first read it years ago. This poem motivated me at a time when academics was the focus of my life.
We all experience days when we think of giving up. In this article, I analyze the meaning of the famous “Don’t Quit” poem. This is a totally subjective analysis of the poem. I’ll be glad to hear your own interpretation of it. That’s what poetry is about — promoting discussions about things that affect human beings.
I have not verified the authorship of this poem as some books claim the authorship is unknown. Others quote Edgar A. Guest. If you know for sure, would you please share that with me below? For now, I’ll go with Edgar. A Guest as the author of “Don’t Quit” until proven otherwise.
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
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 so far,
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.
Edgar A. Guest
The structure of the poem
Don’t Quit is simple and easy-to-read. It’s straightforward and anyone can get an inspirational meaning from it. You don’t need a degree in poetry to find this poem inspirational. The rhyme scheme is consistent, every two lines rhyme in a consistent scheme — aa, bb, cc, dd and so on. Read it aloud and you will notice a lovely rhythm in its entirety. Also, the poem uses frequent alliterations such as in:
“And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,”
“It seems to a faint and faltering man,”
The intentional use of punctuation emphasizes the specific flow of ideas and enhances the rhythm.
The significance of the title
The title is clear and short -Don’t Quit. It’s an exhortation to the reader. Not to quit. The rest of the poem explains what not to quit, why not to quit, how not to quit, and when not to quit. It’s not about not quitting a bad habit, it’s about not quitting in life. The choice of the word has a wide meaning. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Don’t stop.
General line by line analysis of Don’t Quit
“When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,”
The poet, in essence, is saying that life will go wrong sometimes. Things do not always go the way we plan them to. Sometimes our plans go well and life continues as we want it to, but sometimes things do not work out as planned. Therefore, life also has moments when things go right.
“When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,”
The word “road” is not used literally. It’s used in a metaphoric sense to imply encounters in life. Often when we hear of “road” we think of direction. Thus, there are times when you will be overwhelmed in a given aspect of your life e.g your economic situation. The poet uses “when” rather than “if”, hence, it’s certain that at some point in your life you will face challenges or hard times. Never-ending challenges make it seem like you have no moment of trudging downhill and no moment of easily trudged flat land, rather your journey is all about climbing uphill. Life is like a journey whereby some roads are tough and tiresome.
“When the funds are low and the debts are high,”
Broke moments. Lack of finance is a big everyday challenge for many. Debt is a negative thing. When you are in debt, you have no happiness because you know that you are obligated to pay that money. It could also be metaphorical applying to a lack in a certain area of life and the inability to regain control.
“And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,”
You want to be happy. However, you can’t be happy because of the above mentioned. Things are going wrong, things are difficult and you have financial problems. Your circumstances deny you happiness. your life has so many low moments that you lack humour. Instead of a smile, you let out a sigh. The smile is a universal language for expressing joy. On the other hand, the sigh shows tiredness, disillusionment or lack of joy.
“When care is pressing you down a bit,”
The word “care” implies worry, frustration, uncertainty or anxiety which has been brought about by the problems that you face in life. These negative feelings arise from unfulfilled desires and unmet needs and wants. they thwart your ability to move on. Therefore, the hidden message is “don’t quit even when you feel like you can’t go on.”
“Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.”
When facing difficult circumstances in life that tire you, there is another option apart from quitting. The option is to rest. Don’t quit, you can rest. Consider this, when you are climbing a hill and you quit what happens? And what if you rest a bit? there is always another option in life which does not involve quitting. Notice that this line ends with a period to emphasize the key point here. A period signifies that it’s time to rest. All through from the beginning the poem was continuous like an uphill climb. Now rest, but don’t dare to quit.
“Life is queer with its twists and turns,”
Life does not always go smoothly. You will encounter changes in your life. Some of them are like twists- where they are totally unexpected. Some of them are like turns, and you do expect them. What you expect you can prepare for. What you don’t expect is trickier to handle. Either way, this is normal in life. Remember the line of “all uphill?” Take heart because it will not always be uphill. Don’t quit since life is like that.
“As every one of us sometimes learns,”
Embrace the queerness of life. It’s not a new thing. Every human being can learn this in the course of their life. You probably already have.
“And many a failure turns about,”
It’s easier to “turn about” when faced with failure rather than trudging on. Many have failed and quit because they have failed. Other people have contemplated quitting. You are not alone. Others have experienced hard times in life and they have quit.
“When he might have won had he stuck it out;”
Don’t quit just because you have experienced a failure. Your win might just be nearby. Don’t give up. Stick it out even in failure. Keep moving. Beyond this “twist,” there could be a good “turn.” Many who have quit were just about to succeed.
“Don’t give up though the pace seems slow–”
On this road of life, some people will overtake you. Don’t quit because your pace seems slow. Don’t lose patience. Don’t give up because failure has slowed you down. The hyphen used after this sentence is noteworthy and crucial to understanding what the poet wanted the reader to understand. It shows that the next line in the poem is closely related to the previous in the sense that it explains it. In short, you may replace the hyphen with “because.” But, this poem has to keep rhyming with a regular meter so, a hyphen fits better.
“You may succeed with another blow.”
Give yourself another chance. You may succeed the next time you try again. The poet says, “You may succeed.” It is not a guarantee that the next “blow” will succeed, but how would you know if you give up?
So, don’t give up even if you fail many times. If another “blow” fails, try another, and another. The imagery used here likens life to a fight. And notice that this line ends with a period. It’s the end of that idea. It’s a full statement that can stand on its own. Ponder about it.
“Often the goal is nearer than,”
It seems this line ended at “than” for rhyming purposes. The idea is that your goals are just around the corner.
“It seems to a faint and faltering man,”
At a time when you are uncertain and you lack strength, you may perceive the aspired goal to be so far away. Yet it could be nearer than what you think. Don’t let your current state of weakness or miserable situation to cloud your judgment. You may be so near to where you want to be.
“Often the struggler has given up,”
It’s a common occurrence to give up after struggling for some time because the situation seems hopeless.
There are alternatives to quitting life. Check out psychological hacks to use when you are struggling, feeling hopeless and thinking of quitting life. Read my book The Big Dilemma: Do Life or Quit Life? Click the image below to buy.
“When he might have captured the victor’s cup,”
See the visual image created here. The victor and his cup after winning. It’s a great feeling to achieve the desired result after being a “struggler” for a while. “The victor’s cup” doesn’t come easy. The success comes from times of struggling and not giving up. Don’t quit because of the struggle because when you quit you lose the chance of coming out victorious. When you quit, you lose. However, when you don’t quit, you have a chance of winning.
“And he learned too late when the night slipped down,”
You’ll soon regret it when you quit for fear or become tired of the struggle. but it will be too late to do anything about it.
“How close he was to the golden crown.”
You’ll regret it when you realize that you were so close to achieving your anticipated goal, but then you gave up. Life is unpredictable but always hope for the best despite that you never know what will happen next. However, if you quit, you might regret it later.
“Success is failure turned inside out–”
Success and failure are closely related. Look at your failure as a learning opportunity. You can turn your failure into success. “Turned inside out” gives me the idea of clothing. Success and failure are made of the same cloth. Beneath success there is failure and beneath failure there is success. Then, comes the hyphen to show that the following lines also define what success is.
“The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,”
The metaphoric clouds with a silver tint usually signify hope. Success is “the silver tint” when you have doubts. Don’t quit because of your doubts. go ahead even when you are doubtful. Be optimistic that you can acquire success.
“And you never can tell how close you are,”
Success does not give you a date of when it will arrive. Have a flexible view of success because you cannot be completely sure of the exact time that you will achieve success.
“It may be near when it seems so far,”
You may think that you are not going to succeed, yet you are very close to success. The previous line says “you never can tell.” Thus, the opposite is true. You may think that you are close to success, yet you still have a long way to go.
“So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–”
Life is a fight, and it will often present you with pain or hardships. You probably have been “hit” with many small challenges in life and you continued to live. You can still continue with your life even when you face bigger challenges.
“It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.”
Don’t quit when you feel like quitting. Don’t quit during what you consider to be the worst times. You can go through your hard situations. Things sometimes are not the worst, they just “seem worst.” So, at such times you must not quit. Fight to the end.
I am an over-thinker, and this is my take in regard to the famous poem known as “Don’t Quit.” What’s your take?
Life is for living. Keep living. Don’t give up.