Casting arrows and songs into the world

I spent a gloriously uplifting evening last week as the guest speaker at the annual Speech Night at St George’s School in Edinburgh. The young women whose achievements we were applauding were poised, grounded and ready to go out into the world, so in addition to the thoughts I gave them about how to make the most of their lives, I shared with them this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882):


The Arrow and the Song


I shot an arrow into the air,

It fell to earth, I knew not where;

For, so swiftly it flew, the sight

Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,

It fell to earth, I knew not where;

For who has sight so keen and strong,

That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak

I found the arrow, still unbroke;

And the song, from beginning to end,

I found again in the heart of a friend. 


It is a simple poem, but a poem which I have shared with young people before, because it is underpinned by an exceptionally powerful and fundamental truth: what we do in life matters. Everything we do matters, in fact – a kind word will reverberate in ways we may not expect, and how we treat others will also reflect back on us at some point. What Longfellow was acknowledging in his poem was that how we live our life is as important as what we do in our life. In anything and everything we do, we need to be true to ourselves, and to be guided by strong principles of kindness, fairness and a generosity of understanding about other human beings. We are not islands; rather, we are woven into the fabric of the lives of others, and we owe it as much to them as to ourselves to seek to make a positive change in the world.

It is easy, when we look around us, to doubt that one person can make a difference to others in the world, but when we recognise that what we do now may not make a difference immediately, but at some point in the future, then we can regain our faltering courage and step up to the mark that is demanded of us.

It was such a pleasure, last week, to see the next generation ready to do exactly this. Good luck to them; they go with our blessings and hopes for the future.


1 comment

    • Special K on July 6, 2014 at 10:29 pm
    • Reply

    I’ll be sharing this with my daughter when she’s a little older. Thank you for sharing the poem and your thoughts.

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