‘Equipment’ by Edgar Guest is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of six lines, or sextets. Guest has also chosen to structure his stanzas with a consistent rhyme scheme. It follows the pattern of aabbccdd, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit from section to section. A reader should take note of the moment in the last stanza where the end word “lad” is used for this second time. It appears in the first line, opening the poem with an apostrophe, or address to an object or in this case, person. When it appears for the second time it acts as a bookend, closing the poem’s narrative.
It becomes clear in the first stanza of this piece that the poet has a very specific theme in mind. He is seeking to compare the “equipment” of the “lad” mentioned the first line, to that of “the greatest men.” The poet’s tone is optimistic and encouraging, his speaker creates an upbeat and empowering mood by informing the intended listener they can achieve anything the “great men” can. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Equipment
The poem begins with the speaker outlining the equipment the listener has, meaning his arms, legs, and brain, and how that matches the “greatest men.” They have all started out with the same means and it is up to the “lad” to make his life work for him.
As the poem continues it becomes clear the speaker looks down on the idea that some men are intrinsically greater than others. This is antithetical to his belief that all people are created by God with the same ability to make a good life. The poem concludes with the speaker telling his listener to get ahold of himself.
Analysis of Equipment
Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You’ve all that the greatest of men have had,
With this equipment they all began,
So start for the top and say “I can.”
In the first stanza of the poem the speaker begins by addressing his “lad.” This type of straightforward speech is known as an apostrophe. It makes clear from the start who the poem is addressed to or meant for. The speaker wants the reader to know there is one particular person he really wants to hear his words. That does not mean they do not apply to a wider audience. As one will soon realize the poem’s main conceit is based around equality.
The first line tells the “lad” that he is going to have to “Figure it out for” himself. The speaker is referring to life, and all the difficulties it puts in one’s way. In the following lines, he tells this boy that he has everything the “greatest men have had.” There is nothing meaningful separating him from those he might look up to as heroes.
The speaker explains what he means by equipment in the third line. He also has a brain he can make use of if he is “wise” enough. It is with these features that they “all began.” The speaker’s message is very straightforward. He concludes this line by telling the lad to aim as high as he can and believe that he can reach the top.
Look them over, the wise and great,
They take their food from a common plate
The world considers them brave and smart.
But you’ve all they had when they made their start.
In the second stanza, the speaker returns to the men the “lad” sees as being “wise.” There is a certain amount of irony with which the speaker uses the word “wise” as if he does not truly believe these men have anything over those not counted among their ranks. The men live in the world as all others do. They eat and use the same or similar “knives and forks” as the average person. They also tie their shoes with “similar laces.” Even still, with all these similarities, the world sees them as being braver and smarter than others.
The second stanza concludes with another summarizing statement in case the “lad” got lost in all of the comparisons. He has all that the most successful men had when they “made their start.”
You can triumph and come to skill,
Began his life with no more than you.
In the third sextet, the speaker uses anaphora, or the repetition of a word at the beginning of a line. In this case, he is utilizing “You”. It begins four lines of this stanza. In these statements he is trying to keep the attention of the “lad.” He wants to make sure he is understanding the message he has to share.
The first line tells the “lad” that he has the ability to “triumph” over adversity and make his way through life. He has the capacity to reach “great[ness]” if he will only choose it. The speaker goes on to remind the boy that he has the right “equipment” for the job at hand. His “legs and arms” are functioning and he has a “brain” he can use. This line is almost a direct repetition of a similar line in the first stanza in which the speaker lists out the body parts the “men” have.
The pattern of using the final line to re-summarize the theme of the poem continues in the third stanza. Here the speaker says “the man who has risen,” started his life in the same manner that “you” did.
You are the handicap you must face,
Lets you decide what you want to be.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker uses the same metaphor of equipment and functioning body parts to speak on one’s perceived “handicap.” He tells the lad that the only disadvantage he has exists in his own brain and only if he lets it. It is up to him to “choose” his “place” in the world. There is no one who can decide for him “where” he needs to, or wants to go.
The following lines refer to God for the first time. It is clear the speaker credits God with the abilities the “lad” has. God is the one who prepared “you” for life. The last line shows that the speaker does not believe in fate. God has not decided for the young man what he is going to do with his life. That is a decision that is still up to him. The addition of this line removes any possible excuse on the boy’s part that his life has been predetermined.
Courage must come from the soul within,
The man must furnish the will to win,
With your equipment they all began.
Get hold of yourself, and say: “I can.”
The final stanza moves away from the emphasis on physical equipment. It speaks more directly to what it takes mentally to succeed. He states that one already has the “courage” they need to “furnish” their “will to win.” The final three lines reiterate what the rest of the poem was very clearly stating. One is “born with all” they need to be “great.”