Edgar Albert Guest’s poem ‘It Couldn’t Be Done‘ is a motivational poem that encourages the reader not to give up easily. The poem is a warning that throughout life, people will tell you that certain things are impossible to achieve and that you should quit. The narrator of the poem states that many people have accomplished things that were allegedly impossible once they put their minds to it. The narrator argues that if you go into a task with a positive attitude and the will to succeed, you will be victorious.
Explore It Couldn't be Done
‘It Couldn’t Be Done‘ is a poem that warns the reader not to be discouraged by the negativity of others.
The poem begins with somebody telling the protagonist that something “couldn’t be done”. The protagonist then says that he would not say for sure until he gave it a try. He then goes into the task with a positive attitude and confidence, which produces positive results. He ends up proving that he could do it.
The next stanza of the poem progresses very similarly to the first: someone tells the protagonist that a task is impossible, and he once again refuses to give up. He goes into the task with the same confidence, and he ends up completing it.
The poem ends with the narrator speaking directly to the reader about the message of the poem. The narrator states that there are thousands of things that people will say are impossible and that people will try to get you to give up before you even try. But, if you go in with a positive attitude, you can achieve it.
You can read the full poem here.
‘It Couldn’t Be Done‘ is a motivational poem that encourages the reader to never give up. The main theme of the poem is to believe in yourself. The poem is also a warning not to listen to negative or discouraging people. In addition, the poem also tells the reader not to worry if something seems impossible to accomplish. Instead, give it your all, go in with a positive attitude, and you just may be able to do it.
Structure and Form
The poem is 3 stanzas long, with each stanza being 8 lines long. The poem mostly follows an ABAB rhyme scheme, but doesn’t always follow a set formula throughout.
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!
In the first stanza of the piece the speaker begins by utilizing the phrase that would become the title of the poem, “it couldn’t be done. “ The phrase appears as a reference to a previous statement the reader does not have access to. The speaker is describing how “Somebody” told the male main character of this narrative that something “couldn’t be done.” As a reply to that statement the man “chuckle[s],” dismissing it. He is not willing to accept that this task cannot be completed unless he tries it himself and fails.
From these lines, it is clear that Guest was hoping a reader would feel admiration for the main and his stubborn, dedicated nature. Even without knowledge of what the thing is, it is admirable to attempt something that has never been completed before.
In the fifth line of the stanza, the speaker describes how the man is “buckl[ing]” down to the task at hand. He doesn’t appear to be too intimidated by what he is about to attempt. There is a “trace of a grin / On his face” that hid any worry that might also be present. He also “started to sing” when he went to “tackle…the thing.” The first stanza ends with the revelation that the man accomplished the thing that could not be done.
Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
The second stanza follows the same pattern as the first. It begins with the speaker relaying the same scenario in different terms, that there is “Somebody” who is passing judgment on the situation before the determined main character can attempt the feat. The unnamed “Somebody” says that the man will “never do that” because “no one” has ever done it.
Just as with the first stanza, the second describes to the man readying himself to do “it.” He “took off his coat” and then “took off his hat” and did “it.” Whatever “it” might be, it was done quickly. The narrator was surprised by how fast it happened.
The final lines speak to the man’s confidence and how it was that confidence that enabled him to “do it.” Again, the man is clearly pleased with himself. He lifts his “chin” with pride and smiles at the onlooker’s surprised faces. The speaker emphasizes the upbeat attitude the man took and the song he broke into to encourage himself onward.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.
In the final lines, as is customary with Guest’s poetry, the speaker summarizes the main points of the previous verses. Although by this point the main themes have been made very clear, Guest reiterates them again. His speaker tells the reader that throughout life there are always going to be those who tell you something “cannot be done.” They will “prophesy” or predict, your “failure” at any number of things you care about. The poet uses anaphora in his repetition of the words “There are thousands” for the third time in the third stanza. There is a great emphasis placed on the number of people who want to see “you” fail.
When this happens, the speaker tells the reader that they should “buckle in with a bit of a grin,” just as the man in the first two stanzas did, and “go to it.” It does not matter what “it” is, anything can be accomplished by someone dedicated enough.
About Edgar Albert Guest
Edgar Albert Guest was an American poet, though originally born in Britain. Guest’s poetry became extremely popular in the early half of the 20th century. He started his career writing poetry for a newspaper column, but eventually wrote his own poetry collections. His first poetry collection, “A Heap O’ Livin'” (1916) was incredibly successful. He released 4 other poetry collections; “Just Folks”(1918), “Rhythms of Childhood” (1924), “Life’s Highway” (1933), and “Living the Years” (1949).
If you like ‘It Couldn’t Be Done,’ you may also like these similar poems:
- ‘See It Through,’ another inspirational poem by Edgar Albert Guest with similar themes to ‘It Couldn’t Be Done.’
- ‘On Quitting,’ another poem by Edgar Albert Guest that encourages the reader to never give up.
- ‘If‘ by Rudyard Kipling, which is widely considered one of the most inspirational poems ever written.
- The rest of Edgar Albert Guest’s poetry. A lot of his poetry tackles similar themes and topics.