Have You Earned Your Tomorrow by Edgar Guest is a poemthat seeks to inspire people to be kind and make a positive impact through their actions. It encourages people to introspect on the relationships they have with others and to live in a manner that brings joy to others. This is in line with the themes generally followed by Guest, as he mainly focused on optimism, inspiration, and the daily ups and downs of life.
This 16-line poem is split into four quatrains. Each quatrain contains two rhyming couplets, so the rhyme scheme is AABB. The first two lines of a stanza rhyme with each other, as do the last two lines. The poem employs rhetorical questions throughout and the first, second, and fourth lines of each stanza ends with a question mark. Only the third stanza deviates from this as only the second and fourth lines end with question marks.
The poem was published in 1916 in the Detroit Free Press.
Have You Earned Your Tomorrow | Summary And Analysis
Have You Earned Your Tomorrow | Analysis, Lines 1-4
Is anybody happier because you passed his way?
Does anyone remember that you spoke to him today?
This day is almost over, and its toiling time is through;
Is there anyone to utter now a kindly word of you?
The poet addresses the listener and asks several questions. He is asking the listener to think about the day he just lived, and see if he has accomplished anything good. The poet asks whether there is even one person who is now happier after meeting the listener. The listener is asked whether he has made an actual impact on anyone’s life and whether he made himself memorable to anyone.
This stanza sets the tone for the poem and employs a style of interrogation. The poet is asking rhetorical questions, not expecting an answer. He is using these questions to make a statement and to encourage introspection. The questions are clear and direct, and leave no space for interpretation, but they are not specific to a person. Thus, anyone that reads this will connect with it, as they will be reminded of instances in their own lives that connect to the questions asked of them.
The phrase “passed his way” does not mean just walking by, or crossing paths. It is asking whether the listener made any action that helped the person feel happier at all. For example, is someone who was lost glad that you came by because you stopped and helped point them in the right direction? The meeting was just happenstance, but the purposeful action portrayed kindness and care.
The poet is trying to tell people to take the time to be memorable and make significant positive impacts on the lives of people. Conversations that are merely leisurely, and hold no real content will be easily forgotten. For a person to remember a conversation, it must be impactful and make a real difference.
This stanza mainly focuses on the relationships that a person has with strangers they may come by. Kindness should extend to those we do not know, though we may meet them only once. The impression that one makes should be a positive one so that as the day ends, people will be able to say good things about you. The poet mentions that the day is at its end, so the time that one has to make a positive impact is steadily decreasing. At the end of the day, one’s actions should exhibit goodwill to all men.
Alliteration is used in “toiling time is through”.
Have You Earned Your Tomorrow | Analysis, Lines 5-8
Did you give a cheerful greeting to the friend who came along?
Or a churlish sort of “Howdy” and then vanish in the throng?
Were you selfish pure and simple as you rushed along the way,
Or is someone mighty grateful for a deed you did today?
The interrogative style continues, and the poet focuses on relationships with people we know in this stanza. On meeting a friend, do you greet them warmly, or brush them off and move on with your work? Do you fully participate in the life around you or do you, instead, detach yourself and focus on your own needs?
Churlish means to be rude or mean. The use of this word symbolises that treating someone you are close to without love or care is simply mean-spirited and rude. The poet says that an action like that is just selfish, as you think only of yourself and what you want, and do not spare a thought for those around you. When you look back, is there anyone who you really helped, so much so that they are grateful to have had the opportunity to meet you? The poet emphasizes the importance of investing time and energy into personal relationships and supporting their growth and evolution. No gain can come from treating people coldly, and your warmth will radiate positivity to all those around you.
This stanza portrays the need to be selfless over being selfish. A selfish person may complete all the work they set out to do, but find themselves alone when they need support. A selfless person prioritises the well-being of the people around them, and build true relationships over the course of their lives. Those who know them will be thankful for them, as a selfless man will be generous with their kindness and love.
There is strong imagery used in “vanish in the throng” as it creates an image of disappearing alone, and closing oneself away from potential relationships and connections.
Have You Earned Your Tomorrow | Analysis, Lines 9-12
Can you say tonight, in parting with the day that’s slipping fast,
That you helped a single brother of the many that you passed?
Is a single heart rejoicing over what you did or said;
Does a man whose hopes were fading now with courage look ahead?
The poet emphasises again that time is running out, as was mentioned in the first stanza as well. This symbolises not just the particular day that passed, but the totality of the life we have lived. As each day ends, the end of our lives inch closer and closer. When one finally leaves the Earth, will they leave behind a good impression or a bad one?
The people around are called brothers as the people of earth are unified, and it shows the close relationships that are expected between people. We pass by several people day by day and must take the time to impact them in some positive way. It is better to help one person than to help none at all. The poet also asks a more serious and significant question, asking whether the reader has changed the path of a person’s life. Many a man feels hopeless and lost, and the one that pulls them back from the brink and gives them the courage to keep pushing forward should be commended. The poet subtly urges the reader to be that person, to bring hope into the hearts of people they meet, not in some huge gesture, but the small random acts of kindness.
Here, the heart is personified into something that can rejoice, as seen in “Is a single heart rejoicing over what you did or said”
Have You Earned Your Tomorrow | Analysis, Lines 13-16
Did you waste the day, or lose it, was it well or sorely spent?
Did you leave a trail of kindness or a scar of discontent?
As you close your eyes in slumber do you think that God would say,
You have earned one more tomorrow by the work you did today?
The poet makes a clear distinction between a wasted day and a productive day. A wasted day is one that makes no good impact on any person in the world. It is just a loss of time and a day that fulfils no goal. A productive day, however, is one in which the person can look back and recognise the kindness that they have shown, and the way they have supported someone else, instead of being destructive.
The poet uses the metaphor of a “trail of kindness” and “a scar of destruction”, and contrasts them. Both a trail and a scar are long-lasting but portray completely different meanings. A trail has a positive connotation and is a series of signs left behind by someone. Leaving behind a trail of kindness means that the kindness has a domino effect, and the positive impact of one person snowballs into a positive impact onto several people.
For example, the Pay it Forward With a Cup of Coffee Movement, where someone buys a coffee in advance for a person who comes in and may not be able to afford it. The one who buys the coffee has made a positive impact on the life of the person who could not afford it. This kindness will extend past this one set of people, as more people “Pay it Forward”, and more positive impacts are created. This is a trail of kindness that is left behind by the actions of one person.
In contrast, a scar of destruction is also a lasting mark. It will remain for a long time and has negative connotations. Leaving a scar as a lasting image of yourself in someone’s mind is leaving pain that again, may be inflicted on others. A scar is usually a physical, visible sign, but this metaphorical scar will manifest itself in the behaviour of a person. Positivity can garner further positivity, and negativity can push forth further destruction. The impact of your actions is not just on one person but on the mass of people around as well.
To conclude, the poet reminds us that when the day is at its end, and we lay down to rest, our actions should have been acceptable in the eyes of God. This, again, is not concerning just a single day, but life as a whole. When we finally lay down for our eternal rest, will the lives we lived on Earth be acceptable to God? The actions and impacts that we make on earth should earn us the privilege of living another day, and earn us a place in heaven.
The poet uses rhetorical questions for emphasis, and to make a statement. He encourages people to contemplate their actions as a whole and their impact on the world. We can also note that it is not necessary that this is inspiration given by the poet only to others. The poet may also be addressing himself, as a sort of inner monologue to remind himself of the person he strives to be. He may be wondering about his own actions and his own place in the afterlife. This may be the poet’s reminder to live life to the fullest and bring light and positivity to those around him. Thus, this poem serves a dual purpose of being inspirational to the reader, and aspirational to the poet himself.
Have You Earned Your Tomorrow | About The Poet
Edgar Guest was born on 20 August 1881, in the United Kingdom
He was a well-known poet and was dubbed as the “People’s Poet” as he usually wrote inspirational and optimistic poetry that resonated with the population at large. His poems were very popular during the early 1900s. Though he was born in Britain, he became a citizen of America in 1902 and is hence seen as an American poet.
In his lifetime, he has published more than 11,000 poems and is the only person to have held the title of Poet Laureate of Michigan. Along with writing, he also hosted a radio show as well as a TV series. Some of his notable works are “The Panama Canal”, “Poems of Patriotism”, and “Just Glad Things”.
He died on 5 August 1959, in Michigan.