Squandered Lives

While researching for Sunday’s message, I came across this poem by Bayard Taylor. The poem didn’t make it into the sermon, it just didn’t fit, but it hasn’t left my thinking. My imagination has been triggered by both its form and message. I am impressed with the wording and intrigued by their use.

But what does it say? What meaning was Taylor trying to convey? I could hazard a guess, but I am more interested in your perspective. So read the poem, digest its meaning, and then write your interpretation in the comment section. I look forward to our conversation together!

 

 

 

Squandered Lives
by Bayard Taylor

The fisherman wades in the surges;
The sailor sails over the sea;
The soldier steps bravely to battle;
The woodman lays axe to the tree.

They are each of the breed of the heroes,
The manhood attempered in strife:
Strong hands, that go lightly to labor,
True hearts, that take comfort in life.

In each is the seed to replenish
The world with the vigor it needs, —
The centre of honest affections,
The impulse to generous deeds.

But the shark drinks the blood of the fisher;
The sailor is dropped in the sea;
The soldier lies cold by his cannon;
The woodman is crushed by his tree.

Each prodigal life that is wasted
In manly achievement unseen,
But lengthens the days of the coward,
And strengthens the crafty and mean.

The blood of the noblest is lavished
That the selfish a profit may find;
But God sees the lives that are squandered,
And we to His wisdom are blind.

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14 thoughts on “Squandered Lives

  1. Great poem, interesting imagery.

    How Old Testament…Ecclesiatical! And yet…I have read the end of the Book and lo and behold, what we see is NOT what He is or is doing! Evil does not conquer and the scales of God are never in any danger of tipping. Ever look at a flower from its level (horizontally)? We can only see it in profile. Imagine how gloriously intricate it is when we can change our perspective and look down on it! We can ‘see’ it from His perspective. Our understanding of God and how He works is decidedly horizontal.

    As far as Taylor’s examples, I can only relate to the sailor—Tim having been career Navy. I do know that in storms, the ships in the fleet often are ordered to ride out the storms at sea because the rough seas in the harbor itself can damage or sink a ship that is tethered by the anchor. It can easily hit another ship or bang into the pier. I guess my question would be, “Where am I tethered?” If I set my anchor with earthly wisdom, I may end up damaged in the harbor. Myr faith (anchor) should be set in the future…in the One Who wrote the end of the story.

    May we NOT be blind to His wisdom.

  2. The honorable man works to make an honest wage and fulfill GOD’s wishes, while those that are cowards, crooks (and sometimes even wealth) have the skills to avoid any honest work find their way around any worthwhile deeds.
    I’ve often thought about wars. How so many live are taken, most in their early or prime of life. How so many times a whole lineage is wiped from this earth and never to be heard from again.
    What could those young men or women have achieved in their life time or their off springs, but I also feel that this IS GOD’s will and, as the poem quotes, we to his wisdom are blind.

  3. God serves as a catalyst for the heroic passions. The strong fisherman, bold sailor, brave soldier, and rugged woodman are all inspired to use their “strong hands” and to “take comfort in life”. God inspires us to relish life. C.S. Lewis said: “…God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find its good in that kind and degree of the fruitition of God which is proper to its nature” (The Problem of Pain). However, when the passions of life overtake the essential need to acknowledge and serve the being who instilled it, those lives and the pride that has grown within them are felled. Taylor’s use of an ironic downfall for each of his heroes represents this culling, in a sense. Those who don’t aspire to heoric deeds, or don’t represent paragons of virtue (lengthens the days of the coward/and strengthens the crafty and mean) are not brought low in some grand scene, but are stretched and twisted into nothingness (sort of like Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings, if you’ll forgive the reference. Despite acts of heroism, or lack of such, a lack of humility and deference, and indeed overall subservience to the God who so graciously gave it results in a squandered life.

  4. I think Taylor is speaking highly of the men throughout the poem. Their lives ending early are what contribute to the cowards and the crafty and the mean flourishing. We may see their deaths as lives that ended too soon or needlessly, but if they were living their lives in boldness with honesty and generosity then they were fulfilling their God-given passions for His Glory. The poem is more of a challenge to all of us to live life more passionately and intentionally even if we die in the midst of our callings.

  5. I don’t have time to comment on the poem right now but I did want to pass along on how much I liked your message on Sunday. We all struggle with being useful, viable and valuable. Your message about how God see us and our potential was timely. Thank you. We started coming to FBC in January and really like what we have found.

  6. I think the poem is either a lie or an example of the mystery that we’ll not understand in this mundane world. Those lives weren’t squandered as in self-squandered. God didn’t take them in his wisdom. It’s the way of the world. God was the first to mourn their deaths. Our blindness to His wisdom only prevails if we fail to take actions to make something good come of the way-of-the-world. Bad things happen for the good, but God does not say, “Okay here’s something good. I’ll create a disaster.” No. We’ll never be able explain why bad things happen to good people. It’s our job as Christians to bring about good AFTER the bad. Here’s the Christian’s formula: Bad Happenings bring out the goodness of God. Here’s the non-believer’s formula: God brings about Bad Happenings. I’m taking a chance revealing the mystic nature of my beliefs, but I’ll always believe the world is a mess, but all is well through Christ.

  7. “In each is the seed to replenish
    The world with the vigor it needs, –”
    To me, this is the gist of the poem – we all have the “seed” but we all don’t plant it.

  8. Thanks for sharing your perspectives. They are really good. My take on the poem is that it an affirmation of God’s sovereignty over our lives. The good may die young, the wicked may flourish, but God alone weighs the values of the lives lived. And ultimately, God will repay evil and reward obedience. I don’t know if Taylor was inspired by the Psalms—but they certainly inspire me. Here is another poem with much the same message:

    Psalm 94:1–14 (NIV84)
    1 O LORD, the God who avenges,
    O God who avenges, shine forth.
    2 Rise up, O Judge of the earth;
    pay back to the proud what they deserve.
    3 How long will the wicked, O LORD,
    how long will the wicked be jubilant?
    4 They pour out arrogant words;
    all the evildoers are full of boasting.
    5 They crush your people, O LORD;
    they oppress your inheritance.
    6 They slay the widow and the alien;
    they murder the fatherless.
    7 They say, “The LORD does not see;
    the God of Jacob pays no heed.”
    8 Take heed, you senseless ones among the people;
    you fools, when will you become wise?
    9 Does he who implanted the ear not hear?
    Does he who formed the eye not see?
    10 Does he who disciplines nations not punish?
    Does he who teaches man lack knowledge?
    11 The LORD knows the thoughts of man;
    he knows that they are futile.
    12 Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD,
    the man you teach from your law;
    13 you grant him relief from days of trouble,
    till a pit is dug for the wicked.
    14 For the LORD will not reject his people;
    he will never forsake his inheritance.

    • We have watched over the years (both in the military and the business world) people receiving favor and promotions that were undeserved, achieved through unethical means or at the expense of another. the thing is, these are the ones who are what they do or are what they have. This is extremely difficult for people, especially men, who are near or at the retirement time. If they have become what they did, they no longer know who they are. finding our and holding on to who we are IN HIM is the only real measure of success (in my humble opinion!)

  9. Very good Eugene. BTW, the opening line of my comment was designed to grab attention. I don’t think the poem is a lie. God ultimately judges us by who we are…not what we do. This has been a fun blog.

  10. This reminds me of Solomons desperate words in Ecclesiastes. Theres no “solution” for the impending inevitable problem of death for the righteous and unrighteous, poor/wealthy, etc. I think the poet is suggesting there is hope in wisdom, but the definition of this wisdom is immeasurable… I think the poet is trying to grasp the certainty of unseen absolutes.

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