It takes great strength to train
To modern service your ancestral brain;
To lift the weight of the unnumbered years
Of dead men’s habits, methods, and ideas;
To hold that back with one hand, and support
With the other the weak steps of a new thought.
It takes great strength to bring your life up square
With your accepted thought, and hold it there;
Resisting the inertia that drags back
From new attempts to the old habit’s track.
It is so easy to drift back, to sink;
So hard to live abreast of what you think!
It takes great strength to live where you belong
When other people think that you are wrong;
People you love, and who love you, and whose
Approval is a pleasure you would choose.
To bear this pressure and succeed at length
In living your belief—well, it takes strength.
And courage too. But what does courage mean
Save strength to help you face a pain foreseen?
Courage to undertake this lifelong strain
Of setting yours against your grandsire’s brain;
Dangerous risk of walking lone and free
Out of the easy paths that used to be,
And the fierce pain of hurting those we love
When love meets truth, and truth must ride above?
But the best courage man has ever shown
Is daring to cut loose and think alone.
Dark as the unlit chambers of clear space
Where light shines back from no reflecting face.
Our sun’s wide glare, our heaven’s shining blue,
We owe to fog and dust they fumble through;
And our rich wisdom that we treasure so
Shines from the thousand things that we don’t know.
But to think new—it takes a courage grim
As led Columbus over the world’s rim.
To think it cost some courage. And to go—
Try it. It taxes every power you know.
It takes great love to stir a human heart
To live beyond the others and apart.
A love that is not shallow, is not small,
Is not for one, or two, but for them all.
Love that can wound love, for its higher need;
Love that can leave love though the heart may bleed;
Love that can lose love; family, and friend;
Yet steadfastly live, loving, to the end.
A love that asks no answer, that can live
Moved by one burning, deathless force,—to give.
Love, strength, and courage. Courage, strength, and love,
The heroes of all time are built thereof.
If you enjoyed this heroism poem, you might also like this essay on Romeo and Juliet, the making of a heroine
Not enough like a heroism poem? Maybe you’d like a heroes and villains prompt (with playlist!)
Or maybe you’re in the mood for a heroism poem of the classic variety. Read about the enduring appeal of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
The Classic by Charlotte Perkins Gilman—Now a Graphic Novel!
“Sara’s stunning, heartbreaking, and relevant illustrations help to tell a difficult, haunting story. I will return to the story, as I do with all those stories I love, again and again.”
—Callie Feyen, teacher