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“It Couldn’t Be Done" reveals everything could be done

To make your dream comes true, keep on believing that nothing is impossible, act immediately, handle it dedicatedly and cheerfully, and never give up.

It is said that the beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect for regaining the lost hope (if your previous year was full of troubles and pain) and boosting up your confidence by pouring yourself with motivational and encouraging works. One of the ways to do it is by reading inspirational poems. This year I took Edgar Albert Guest’s “It Couldn't Be Done" (1914) as one of the poems to up my spirit to usher in 2020. It is a narrative poem written in three stanzas, and each stanza is formed in an octave (a set of eight lines). Each octave is consistently structured with a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d rhyme pattern. With that scheme, this poem becomes quite musical and helps one’s memory to recite it. 

The poem tells about the interaction of two unnamed characters, i.e. "somebody" and a man called "he". In the first stanza, the narrator tells a situation in which "somebody" tries to assure "he" that "something" cannot be done. The narrator does not specify the 'something’. This, to a higher extent, is meant to indicate it represents any task one has to resolve. The man in the poem is neither discouraged nor intimidated by the pessimistic “somebody’. After motivating himself by saying he will never say something couldn’t be done before trying it, he starts doing the thing immediately. He grins to hide his worry—in case it is present and sings while he is doing the thing, and he finally gets the thing done.

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
     But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
     Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
     On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
     That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

The second stanza depicts the same pattern as the first. Through this stanza, the speaker communicates the same employing different terms, i.e. there is “somebody” who judges a man cannot do something because nobody has ever done it. However, the man responses by directly doing (“took off his coat and hat”) the thing, and he smiles, makes himself cheerful (“lift up his chin and grinned) and sings while handling it, and he finally gets the thing done.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
     At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
     And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
     Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
     That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

In stanza three, the narrator summarizes the main points of the previous stanzas by telling the reader that throughout life there are many pessimistic people who tell you something is impossible to do. Such people will “prophesy” or predict that you will fail and describe the troubles that will hurt and make you suffer. Guest employs anaphora by repeating the words "There are thousands" three times in this stanza to emphasize the big number of pessimistic people who believe “you” will fail. But, anytime this happens, the speaker suggests the reader to believe nothing is impossible, “buckle in with a bit of a grin,” just as the man in the first two stanzas does, and “go to it,” and keeps on doing it happily. By so doing, you will get the thing which previously seems “couldn’t be done”, no matter what “it” is, done.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
     There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
     The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
     Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
     That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

It can be concluded that “It Couldn't Be Done" reveals the significance of self-reliance, willingness to act, and perseverance in a world filled with pessimism and negativity. In the poem, Guest employs unnamed characters (“somebody” and “he”) to emphasize the universality of his theme. Thus, the ‘thousands’ pessimists who tell you the goal you are targeting is impossible to achieved and the ‘thousands’ of people with negative thinking who try to convince that you will fail can be anyone. In the first stanza, the narrator indicates his admiration for the man (‘he’) due to his stubborn, dedicated nature that enables him to get the “thing” he knows nothing about, done. Thus, Guest suggests that anytime you encounter pessimistic views and negativity, keep on believing that nothing is impossible, act immediately, handle it dedicatedly and cheerfully, and never give up. You will make your dream comes true.

This idea reminds me of Talia, the well-known Mexican singer, businesswoman, and actress, who once said, “I think that nothing is impossible when you want to fulfill a dream. A lot of people will tell you that you can't do it, that you don't have what it takes, but if it is in your heart and you feel it, there is nothing that will stop you. It is like the sun - you can't block it: it will shine regardless if that is what you want." Reading an inspirational poem that provides an optimistic view of life, like “It Couldn't Be Done” can recharge our motivation to start a new year. Guest’s works are popular as poems of inspiration and optimism. You can see his other works here.

Author : Parlindungan Pardede (


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