I memorized parts of Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in the Republic” delivered in Paris in 1910 following his presidency. We learned it as “Man in the Arena”. It strongly praises the actions of “doers” and denounces naysayers and others that fail to dare greatly. Counterpoint to Roosevelt’s speech is one delivered by John Ashbery in the poem “Soonest Mended” in which he praises the virtues of those that tackle pursuits where there are unknowns but do not waver in their pursuit even in the face of those uncertainties. Following are the two excerpts, the first from Roosevelt and the second from Ashbery.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
“And you see, both of us were right, though nothing
Has somehow come to nothing; the avatars
Of our conforming to the rules and living
Around the home have made– well, in a sense “good citizens” of us,
Brushing the teeth and all that, and learning to accept
The charity of the hard moments as they are doled out,
For this action, this not being sure, this careless
Preparing, sowing the seeds crooked in the furrow,
Making ready to forget, and always coming back
To the mooring of starting out, that day so long ago.”
Lest we remind ourselves that pursuit into the unknown is just as courageous as daring action and relentless pursuit. Continuing into that unknown takes steadfastness and grit.
[…] See this post about Theodore Roosevelt and John Ashbery. It’s a more complex and accurate portrait of life’s enterprise than Roosevelt’s hard-charging man’s man, sore and broken but never doubting his direction. […]