Not quite Tennyson

In the Winter 2011 edition of Evergreen magazine, p.125, there appeared a poem which struck a chord with me.

End of the Day

Is anyone happier because you passed this way?
Does anyone remember that you spoke to them today?
The day is almost over, and its toiling time is through,
Is there anyone to utter now a kindly word to you?

Can you say in parting with the day that slipping fast
That you have helped a single person of the many you have passed?
Is a single heart rejoicing over what you did or said?
Does anyone who hopes were fading, now with courage look ahead?

Did you waste the day or use 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,
That you have earned “tomorrow” by the way you lived today?

(Sent in by Mrs J. Rawsthorne of Rufford, Lancashire)

It’s unfortunate that the first two verses do not scan, but it’s still worth a read.

UPDATE: After posting this, I did a Google search and found that it is not original, and indeed is slightly corrupt, in that the verse does not scan.  The version I found online is also evidently corrupt, in that it also does not scan, but at different points.  By combining the two versions, I get this.

What did you do today?

Is anybody happier because you passed this way?
Does anyone remember that you spoke to them today?
The day is almost over, and its toiling time is through,
Is there anyone to utter now a kindly word of you?

Can you say tonight in parting with the day that’s slipping fast,
That you helped a single person of the many that you passed?
Is a single heart rejoicing over what you did or said?
Does the one whose hopes were fading now with courage look ahead?

Did you waste the day or use it? Was it well or sorely spent?
Did you leave a trail of kindness, or a scar of discontent?
As you close you eyes in slumber, do you think that you can say:
That you have earned “tomorrow” by the way you lived today?

It’s a small bit of textual criticism, perhaps; to use the metre to correct the versions.  It is my guess that the real title is “what did you do today”?

So… I wonder if we can locate the real original of these?  Clearly the original author was a poet, and belonged to a period when poetry was read.

6 thoughts on “Not quite Tennyson

  1. A nice bit of textual criticism, Roger, using metre to correct corrupt text. A. E. Housman would definitely have approved.

    As a morris dancer and a folk singer, I often do the same thing with the texts of folksongs that have got corrupted in transmission.

    Take the first two lines of ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’, for example. They are traditionally rendered as follows:

    When mighty roast beef was the Englishman’s food
    It ennobled our veins and enriched our blood.

    I suspect, both on metrical and other grounds, that the correct version should be:

    When mighty roast beef was the Englishman’s food
    It enriched our veins and ennobled our blood.

    Pedantry? Perhaps, but I would prefer, with C. S. Lewis, to think of it as a laudable desire for precision.

  2. A google books search reveals several entries around 1917.

    “Our paper, Volume 34 By Massachusetts Reformatory (Concord, Mass.)” p.611 here attributes it to a certain Edgar A. Guest, and calls it “The Day’s Work”. There are various differences, and there is an extra verse also, between vv1 and 2, and it is given as from “Detroit Press”, so presumably reprinted.

  3. It looks as if the author was Edgar A. Guest, for there is a book about him, by Jean Elizabeth Ward, “Edgar A. Guest: Remembered”, published on Lulu in 2008. Google books. He was born in Birmingham, in the UK, on August 20, 1881, and went to the US in 1891. He worked at the Detroit Free Press from 1895, and his first poem appeared there on Dec. 11, 1898. He had a weekly column, and died in August 5, 1959. A Collected Verse appeared in 1934.

    The Lulu PDF is here, and costs a small amount.

    The editor, Jean Elizabeth Ward, had a website at http://www.poetryplusart.com but this seems to have vanished. There is something in the Waybackwhen machine, but unfortunately the site was designed with graphics which have not been copied.

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