How Did You Die is a poem by Edmund Vance Cooke published, appropriately, in a book called Impertinent Poems. I discovered the poem as a teen in an anthology I was reading. Since then it’s been a favorite of mine. Cooke asks some probing questions about one’s reaction to the hard things in life with the implication that one’s response says everything about a man. You should take this poem with a grain of salt–Cooke’s line about “the Critic” should obviously not inform your understanding of salvation and grace. Nevertheless, reading How Did You Die a few times a year would be great for any man’s character. For the interested reader, the entirety of Impertinent Poems is available for free at The Gutenberg Project.
How Did You Die?
Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?
You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there — that’s disgrace.
The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts,
It’s how did you fight — and why?
And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could,
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only how did you die?
Edmund Vance Cooke, Impertinent Poems, 1903