My mother’s pearl of wisdom for my sons

Our final family Christmas celebration dinner was at my sister’s home last Sunday, with my 86 year old mother presiding! When you are 86, one of the eldest of 14 children born to a farming family on the wast coast of Ireland, who came over to London in the 1940s, built a successful business and are now enjoying weekly tai-chi  sessions (she can still lift her leg over her head!)… you can’t help but know a thing or two.
Here’s what she said to my two sons:

We were talking at the dinner table about the ‘Current situation’ and about how tough it might be for some. She, of course, has experienced her fair share of good and bad times since 1923.

At one point she cleared her throat and told us that she would share a lesson that she learnt when she was a little girl at school, from one of those old-fashioned ‘Readers’ (a school-text compendium of stories designed to encourage reading skills)

It is a poem called TRY AGAIN, which she recited with the vigour of a warrior: 

Drive the nail aright, boys,
Hit it on the head;
Strike with all your might, boys,
While the iron’s red.

When you’ve work to do, boys,
Do it with a will;
They who reach the top, boys,
First must climb the hill.

Standing at the foot, boys,
Gazing at the sky,
How can you get up, boys,
If you never try?

Though you stumble oft, boys,
Never be downcast;
Try, and try again, boys,
You’ll succeed at last.

She said quietly after reciting it that she took the poem to heart as soon as she read it as a child and that it was a constant inspiration to her over the years. I hope it will resonate with my sons as much as it did with me when I first heard it from her as a stronger, younger mother.

The poem is taken from THE BEACON THIRD READER by James H. Fassett with a copyright dated 1914.

By |2009-06-13T18:50:45+00:00January 6th, 2009|Uncategorized|13 Comments


  1. Richard Maybury June 13, 2017 at 7:22 am

    Hi Satish, how wonderful! It is amazing how a few well chosen words can strike a chord in our hearts and create a legacy.
    I sometimes wonder if James Fassett wrote this poem or collected it as a popular poem at the time, handed down the ages.

    Whatever the answer is, it certainly motivated a small girl, using it as a shared classroom book in a mountain school on the west coast of Ireland to make a success of her life as she migrated to London to seek her fortune.

    I have a video recording of my mum reciting this from memory well into her 80s and frail from health challenges but when she is speaking the words she, as always, recited it with the voice of a warrior, with the actions to add emphasis to the meaning.

    Thank you for reaching out Satish and my regards to your family. Pass it on!

  2. Satish Rao June 12, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    I cannot believe this. I am an Indian, however my father had a British teacher(1940s when British ruled India) in school who used to recite this to my dad. His version was “Standing at the foot, gazing at the sky, how can you reach there boy if you do not try”. A little corruption of words, but the idea is intact. This my father said had inspired him to do many a things he did in his life and he passed it on to me and I was really inspired by it. I just presented it to my son.
    I always thought it was some old obscure British saying that the teacher passed on to my dad, but it is really good to know its origin. It has inspired 3 generations of my family and good to know it did the same for you.

  3. Richard Maybury May 12, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    You are probably right Collette. It is a good poem to live by. Thank you for engaging here. I’m curious to know how you found it.

  4. Collette Skerritt May 12, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    Hi Richard, my Nana would have turned 100 today and this was her poem, she always recited it when her children were growing up and I remember as her grandchild hearing it too. The poem was presented at her funeral. It still reminds me of her, I would imagine she learnt it in school too.

  5. Richard Maybury January 3, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Hi Errol, that’s the reality for many of us my friend. 2012 will be a great time to try new things, go beyond what we have done before, redefine ourselves and our proposition, add that little bit more than we did last year.

    The alternative is not worth contemplating.

    Onwards and upwards Errol et al

  6. Errol Finkelstein January 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Great story and food for thought there, Richard – much appreciated. We are making Twenty12 our big year, striking now, climbing and no doubt dusting ourselves off after stumbling.

  7. Richard Maybury May 18, 2010 at 7:12 am

    Thanks Gloria, your comment has prompted me to give my mother a call today!

  8. Gloria Bess May 17, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    My Grangmother taught this poem to me when I was a child.

    I taught the same poem to my daughter.

  9. […] another one of my mother’s simple approaches to resolving life’s complexities came to mind and I could almost see her dealing with the Oxford Prison stones as we spoke. Here’s […]

  10. Richard Maybury January 19, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Yes, Ronald, and there is a wealth of wisdom in the good book too.

    I was involved in a conversation the other day when a coach was claiming that ‘The Truth will set you free’ came from an American coach…. I pointed her to John 8:32 ‘Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’

  11. Ronald Kugler January 19, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Richard, Thank you for sharing this very personal experience. The wisdom and experience older ones have is a treasure. Proverbs 23:22

  12. Richard Maybury January 8, 2009 at 9:36 am

    You are right, Fiona, one of the things we have tried to instill into our 2 sons is to look beyond the human frailty of older people and to see who they really are. Over the years they have discovered that many ‘old’ people that they know have lead remarkable lives: Climbed Everest with Hillary, Sang at the National Opera and recorded with the best, Members of the RA, the list is endless. Why is it we have difficulty in honouring old age in our society?

  13. Fiona Humberstone January 8, 2009 at 9:27 am

    How inspiring. It’s good to be reminded that the ‘older generation’ have a lot to teach us.

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