6 Poems to Read Post-Graduation

Written by Angie Carrera

As this graduation season quickly approaches, we must begin to contemplate life after, and the terror that is adulthood. Our experiences begin to diverge, and we begin to encounter things that we must face alone. Though we confront what’s next by ourselves, this does not mean that we are the first to experience these things. Here are six poems that speak to these varying experiences and might offer some insight on how to navigate them.

“See It Through”

By: Edgar A. Guest

When you’re up against a trouble, Meet it squarely, face to face;
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it’s vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do; You may fail, but you may conquer,
See it through!
 
Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim,
But don’t let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
See it through!
 
Even hope may seem but futile,
When with troubles you’re beset,
But remember you are facing
Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
Don’t give up, whate’er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
See it through!

Guest became a high-school dropout and began to work full time at a newspaper press, eventually working his way up to become a columnist, despite his lack of higher education. Guest’s words of encouragement in trying times remind us to stick to our bearings and remember that life is a constant dance between success and failure—both of which are great instructors to learn from if you simply step back to appreciate them.

 

“Dreams”

By: Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Though Hughes spent some time after graduation working odd jobs in restaurants, he never gave up writing poetry. His persistent writing allowed for his eventual success. Here, Hughes simply tells it as it is, and prompts us to keep dreaming, because that is the essence of life and future. Without dreams, we become stagnant.

 

“Theories of Time and Space”

By: Natasha Trethewey

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return
 
 
A more modern poet, Trethewey embraces her southern roots in this poem and shares her travels. Trethewey cleverly teaches us to go anywhere life leads us and to take advantage of these opportunities. The person who you were at the beginning of the journey will be surprised when joined with the version of you at the end. Though that version is ten Tiff’s Treats in, and maybe a few pounds heavier, it’s a version to be proud of nonetheless.

 

“Experience”

By: Carl Sandburg

This morning I looked at the map of the day
And said to myself, “This is the way! This is the way I will go;
Thus shall I range on the roads of achievement,
The way is so clear—it shall all be a joy on the lines marked out.”
And then as I went came a place that was strange,—
’Twas a place not down on the map!
And I stumbled and fell and lay in the weeds,
And looked on the day with rue.
I am learning a little—never to be sure—
To be positive only with what is past,
And to peer sometimes at the things to come
As a wanderer treading the night
When the mazy stars neither point nor beckon,
And of all the roads, no road is sure.
I see those men with maps and talk
Who tell how to go and where and why;
I hear with my ears the words of their mouths,
As they finger with ease the marks on the maps;
And only as one looks robust, lonely, and querulous,
As if he had gone to a country far
And made for himself a map,
Do I cry to him, “I would see your map!
I would heed that map you have!”

As a man who was never able to get from point A to point B without a million stops in between, Sandburg shares his insight on his journeys. In essence, he tells us to never be too sure about where we are going because life is so incredibly subject to change, and it is absolutely okay. Sometimes you shoot for a Fortune 500 company, but end up working at Cane’s and that is perfectly okay, because you will get there…eventually.

“Famous”

By: Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   

The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   

I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.

Nye speaks to her Muslim roots when she expresses the ideas of humility and authenticity as key factors of life. We tend to pursue dreams and goals that are not our own, when we should instead find the thing we absolutely love to do, and make it a reality. If the thing you’re good at is leading Yoga classes, then by all means, get yourself a goat farm and a classroom—anything is possible in Austin, because what starts here, changes the world.

 

“If-”

By: Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
   But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
   Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
   And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
   If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
   And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
  Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
   And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
  And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
   To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
  Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
   Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
   If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
   Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Kipling would often find himself in states of disarray when he struggled to understand who he was, balancing between his Indian and British roots. Despite this, he never lost hope in himself and maintained a strength that he now passes on to us. Strength in times of tribulation, and during these approaching and crippling finals…

 

These writers from their collectively diverse backgrounds offer advice that must not be overlooked. Now that adulthood is upon you, remember to continuously strive forward and let the past live and die in the past. Pursue your dreams, no matter how outlandish they may seem. But above all, let your opinion be the only one that dictates your life.

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