Come to St. Agnes on Tuesday, May 10 to discuss Poetry and Failure and Success.

Date: Tuesday, May 10
Time: 5:30 – 6:30 pm
Place: St. Agnes Branch Library, 444 Amsterdam Avenue (near 81st Street), 3rd Floor
Theme: Poetry and Failure and Success

OPPC_Poster_May10In the lyrics of a famous Bob Dylan song, “there’s no success like failure and that failure’s no success at all,” we contemplate the attraction between the two words. Do some fail and through failure make a name for themselves, as Philip Schultz writes of his father in the beginning lines of “Failure”?:

To pay for my father’s funeral
I borrowed money from people
he already owed money to.
One called him a nobody.
No, I said, he was a failure.
You can’t remember
a nobody’s name, that’s why
they’re called nobodies.
Failures are unforgettable.
(read Schultz’s entire poem

On the flip side of the question is the 1914 poem “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing,” by William Butler Yeats:

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

Yeats doesn’t advise his friend to buck up after a failure, but to do the thing “most difficult”: accept, and by doing so, succeed as a human being.

Can anyone be labeled a success when the person is living and could fail in the future? What is success anyway? Robert William Service begins the old favorite “Success” with the words:

You ask me what I call Success –
It is, I wonder, Happiness?
It is not wealth, it is not fame,
Nor rank, nor power nor honoured name.
It is not triumph in the Arts –
Best-selling books or leading parts.
It is not plaudits of the crowd,
The flame of flags, processions proud.
The panegyrics of the Press
are but the mirage of Success.
You may have all of them, my friend,
Yet be a failure in the end.

What do these or other poems say to you about success and failure?

—Abigail and AnnaLee