55. What is Success: Bessie A. Stanley (not Ralph Waldo Emerson… oops!)

Another of the three poems recommended in this month’s “NEA Today” as the three books/poems that every graduate should read (the other two by the suggester are “If” and “The Road Not Taken”).

Except, it wasn’t written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Years after posting, a reader pointed out the true author. Her story can be found here. How it became attributed to Emerson is told by the Emerson Society. I have left the popular Emerson attribution, and then the Stanley version as written in Wikipedia. Thanks Swingfish for the correction.

This is a great poem to use with students about what they want, why they are in school, and to generally get them to buy into the whole “school” idea. Once they define “success”, have them work out exactly what it looks like, and what they need to do to achieve it. For classroom management, I always ask them if they are “happy”, and then work towards solutions to making it so. This does this, writ large.

What is Success
as attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson

To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the approval of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one’s self;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…
This is to have succeeded.

What is Success
Bessie Anderson Stanley

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.


4 thoughts on “55. What is Success: Bessie A. Stanley (not Ralph Waldo Emerson… oops!)

Add yours

  1. This attribution is wrong. Elisabeth-Anne “Bessie” Anderson Stanley (born before 1900 – d. 1952[1]) is the author of the poem Success (What is success? or What Constitutes Success?), which is often incorrectly mis-attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    Her poem was written in 1904 for a contest held in Brown Book Magazine, by George Livingston Richards Co. of Boston, Massachusetts. Mrs. Stanley, of Lincoln, Kansas, submitted the words in the form of an essay, rather than as a poem. The competition was to answer the question “What is success?” in 100 words or less. Mrs. Stanley won the first prize of $250.

    Check your Wikipedia.

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