‘Have You Earned Your Tomorrow’ by Edgar Guest is a four stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Guest chose to conform these quatrains to a consistent rhyme scheme. The lines follow the pattern of aabb ccaa ddee ffaa. Immediately noteworthy is the repetition of the -ay” sound that appears in the first, second and fourth stanzas. It has been used repetitively in order to unify the text. The sound repeats, just like the speaker’s questions are rephrased in order to make a new impact. Both elements of the poem constantly press on the reader’s mind.
As a reader will immediately notice upon beginning ‘Have You Earned Your Tomorrow’ that the text is marked by questions directed at the reader. Each stanza contains at least two, sometimes three questions which probe at a one’s treatment of others. For example, the second stanza inquires into friendly greetings and kind actions while the third is concerned with helping others and giving hope. The speaker’s words are piercing, leaving no room for interpretation. Any reader who considers them, even briefly, will be challenged to analyze their own goodness.
Summary of Have You Earned Your Tomorrow
The poem begins with the speaker asking a reader if they did anything to improve the day of another human being. He continues on to ask if the reader greeted their friends cheerfully or if instead, they passed them by “churlish[ly].” It is the end of the day and time is running out to guarantee one’s actions are approved by God
In the second half of the poem, the speaker inquires into the reader’s actions further. He hopes that everyone does what they can to bring hope and courage to those who do not have it. The poem concludes with the speaker reminding the reader that it is up to God whether or not “you” have a tomorrow. Therefore, one should consider their actions carefully if they want to see the next day.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of Have You Earned Your Tomorrow
Is anybody happier because you passed his way?
Is there anyone to utter now a kindly word of you?
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins with a question. Of all the questions to come, this one is the most direct. It gets to the heart of what Guest’s speaker is concerned with. He asks if today, “you,” referring to the reader, made anyone’s day better. He speaks abstractly about a “him” the reader might’ve passed and helped or made happier. The speaker purposely does not define what this means. It is up for interpretation as it could mean any number of things.
This question is followed by a second, then later a third. The second asks the reader if there was anyone “you spoke to” today who remembers “you?” Again, this question could mean anything. The most important parts of these two questions are the emphasis on unprompted kindness and the fact that it is now the end of the day. The hours are running out for “you” to make a positive impact. The speaker emphasizes this by asking if there is “anyone to utter now a kindly word of you?”
Did you give a cheerful greeting to the friend who came along?
Or is someone mighty grateful for a deed you did today?
The second stanza begins with another question. Here, the speaker asks if anytime during the day “you” greeted a friend “cheerful[ly].” Now the kindness is moving inward. The speaker is also concerned with how “you” treat those known to “you” as well.
In the next lines, he presents the opposite and pushes the reader on their own selfish tendencies. Rather than a cheerful, heartfelt hello, the speaker asks if “you” were “churlish,” or rude. This would also be marked by one’s quick disappearance into the “crowd” and rushing off to another task. It is clear the speaker feels distaste at the idea of treating a friend in this way. He says very clearly that it is a “pure[ly]” “selfish” way to be. As if he is hoping for the opposite response, he asks, “Or” did “you” act differently? And is someone “grateful for a deed you did today?”
Can you say tonight, in parting with the day that’s slipping fast,
Does a man whose hopes were fading now with courage look ahead?
The third stanza begins with a longer question, probing into any help the reader might’ve given to “a single brother.” It is enough for the speaker if “you” were kind to one person out of the many “that you passed.” An action like this would be sufficient to have “earned your tomorrow.” It is important to note how this way of thinking is connected to a number of different religions and their dependence on “good deeds.” This is backed up by Guest’s tendency to connect his themes to Christianity. In fact, God comes into play in the fourth stanza as one is forced to contend with how they lived.
In the second half of the third stanza, the speaker uses courage and cowardice as tools to improve or worsen someone’s life. He asks if there is one “single heart” that is now “rejoicing” due to “your” actions. Ideally, he would like there to be “a man” with improved hopes and reinvigorated “courage [to] look ahead.”
Did you waste the day, or lose it, was it well or sorely spent?
You have earned one more tomorrow by the work you did today?
In the fourth stanza, the speaker states that any day not spent, at least in part, improving the lives of others, is wasted. It is “lost” if it was “sorely,” or badly, “spent.” On the other hand, if it was “well…spent” there will be a “trail of kindness” marking one’s path through the day. The last lines tell the reader (if they are unsure how their day was spent,) that they can “close” their “eyes in slumber” and think about what God would have to say to them.
If after considering the response of God, a reader feels as if they’ve done well, then tomorrow is assured. Otherwise, God might look kindly on the actions or inactions of the day and tomorrow might not come.