Charles Harpur's "The Battle of Life"

Updated on November 25, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Charles Harper

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "The Battle of Life"

Charles Harpur's "The Battle of Life" is a didactic poem that goes against the grain of many modernists and post-modernists, who disdain the very thought of a poet giving any kind of moral advice. Nevertheless, the poem offers a useful attitude that can help life strugglers meet their challenges.

The poem consists of four five-line-stanzas, each with the rime scheme, ABAAB. The speaker is addressing a younger man, offering advice to help the younger person in weathering the storms of life.

(Please note: The incorrect spelling, "rhyme," was erroneously introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson. For my explanation for using only the correct form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The "battle" is not an ordinary battle as in war, but rather the battles everyone encounters in meeting the challenges of life. The battlefield is used as a metaphor for life's struggles.

The Battle of Life

Never give up, though life be a battle
Wherein true men may fail, and true causes be sold;
Yet, on the whole, however may rattle
The thunders of chance, scaring cowards like cattle —
Clear victory's always the bride of the bold.

Armed in your right-though friendship deny you,
And love fall away when the storm's at the worst,
Count not your loss, Was destined to try you —
Bear the brunt like a man, and your deeds shall ally you
To natures more noble and true than the first.

Rail not at Fate : if rightly you scan her,
There's none loves more strongly the heart that endures:
On, in the hero's calm resolute manner,
Still bear aloft your hope's long-trusted banner,
And the day, if you do but live through it, is yours.

Be this your faith; and if killing strokes clatter
On your harness where true men before you have died,
Fight on, let your life-blood be poured out like water —
Fight on, make at least a brave end of the matter,
Brave end of the struggle if nothing beside.

Commentary

First Stanza: Command to Keep on Meeting Life's Challenges

Never give up, though life be a battle
Wherein true men may fail, and true causes be sold;
Yet, on the whole, however may rattle
The thunders of chance, scaring cowards like cattle —
Clear victory's always the bride of the bold.

The speaker begins right way to give commands, advising the young man, "Never give up." Even though life is tough, and you may not win at first, you must keep fighting. Even those who are right and are fighting for "true causes" may not succeed at first.

But only "cowards" tremble at the "thunders of chance"; they "rattle" like "cattle." But victory is "always the bride of the bold." You certainly cannot win, if you give up. The speaker metaphorically describes success or "victory" as a bride to be won.

Second Stanza: Strength, Courage, Vigilance, and Perseverance

Armed in your right-though friendship deny you,
And love fall away when the storm's at the worst,
Count not your loss, Was destined to try you —
Bear the brunt like a man, and your deeds shall ally you
To natures more noble and true than the first.

Continuing his uplifting encouragement and use of the battlefield metaphor, the speaker advises the young man to "count not your loss," despite the possibility of losing friends.

The speaker tells the lad to "Bear the brunt like a man," and if he does so, his strength and courage will enhance his nature. Through constant vigilance and perseverance, the young man's ideals will become "more noble" than they were in the beginning.

Third Stanza: Beating the Darkness Never Brings in Light

Rail not at Fate : if rightly you scan her,
There's none loves more strongly the heart that endures:
On, in the hero's calm resolute manner,
Still bear aloft your hope's long-trusted banner,
And the day, if you do but live through it, is yours.

Next, the speaker commands the young man to "rail not at Fate." Cursing bad circumstances is a waste of energy and time. Instead, he should simply persevere because "There's none loves more strongly the heart that endures."

A hero always shows a "calm resolute manner." He keeps his hope alive, and if he lives or makes it through each hardship, he will be stronger for each struggle won.

Fourth Stanza: Even Face Death With Courage

Be this your faith; and if killing strokes clatter
On your harness where true men before you have died,
Fight on, let your life-blood be poured out like water —
Fight on, make at least a brave end of the matter,
Brave end of the struggle if nothing beside.

The battlefield metaphor is strongest in the final stanza. The speaker places the young man on horseback fighting as in war: "if killing strokes clatter / On your harness."

The speaker is preparing the young man to face the worst: if you are facing sure death, face it with courage as all "true men before you" have done. He reminds him to "Fight on" even if he is spilling blood. He must "Fight on" and show that he is brave.

Even if it is the end, he should show a "Brave end of the struggle if nothing beside." Even if he dies, if he dies bravely, he will die a hero.

Charles Harpur - Bard of Our Country

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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