Manvotional: The Bridge Builder

by Brett & Kate McKay on January 22, 2011 · 39 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals

The Bridge Builder

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”

By Will Allen Dromgoole

What will your legacy be?

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mike January 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Great poem. I’m not sure what my legacy will be, but I hope that it will be worth writing about.

2 MJCinc January 22, 2011 at 10:06 pm

This is absolutely wonderful. I’ve not read this poem before. Thank you for sharing it.

3 Allison January 22, 2011 at 10:22 pm

I don’t know what my legacy will be, but I want to help as many lives as possible before my light goes out. Find the good in the world and help it grow.

4 Anthony Smitha January 23, 2011 at 12:25 am

Very nice poem. Gives a person a reason to pause and think how many bridges we have built, and how many of them are made well and to the right places.

5 Ryan Jensen January 23, 2011 at 4:25 am

Fast fact: Will Allen Dromgoole was born William Ann Dromgoole and was a she.

6 Mike January 23, 2011 at 4:46 am

Thanks for sharing this. I first read and discussed this at a fraternity pledge meeting in college. Great addition to the site.

7 Mike January 23, 2011 at 8:48 am

Great!!! inspiring WOOO!

8 Baxter January 23, 2011 at 11:26 am

nice picture postcard of the Lennox Bridge (Lapaine, New South Wales)

9 Baxter January 23, 2011 at 11:30 am

oppps… i meant (Lapstone, NSW)

10 Zack January 23, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Excellent poem. Thank you.

My legacy I hope will be like my [step] dad’s. The Bridge Builder reminds me of him.

11 Paul January 23, 2011 at 12:21 pm


12 Brian January 23, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Wonderful poem, however I do have one critique. If we build bridges everywhere people may struggle to get across, then how will they acquire the strength and knowledge to cross them, like the old man did? In a way, aren’t we weakening our youth by building bridges everywhere? Something to chew on.

13 Warren January 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Brian, we build the bridges not to weaken them, but so they may have the strength to go further than we did, and become better men than we were.

14 Dev January 23, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Pretty inspirational and amazing!

15 Frank January 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Brian, I didn’t read the poem as we need to build bridges so that things will be “easier” for those who come after us. To me, the poem seemed to say that our actions aren’t just for us, but also have an impact on those who come after us. I think this was the point the old man was getting at when he responded to the traveler that wanted to know what good the bridge would do for the old man.

Also, even if what we do makes certain things easier for the next generation, there will always be new struggles to draw strength from.

16 Jason Stambaugh January 23, 2011 at 4:54 pm

There are always new chasms and challenges. We have an obligation to build bridges, leading and helping those who may follow. Maybe it’s a lone “someone” or maybe it’s your son or daughter. I’ve never read this poem before today, but it makes me think of all the chasms I have crossed. Thanks for giving me something to ponder.

17 Aaron January 23, 2011 at 5:41 pm

I wonder what those trying to repeal the hard-fought gains of America’s working class would think of this poem. Anyhow, excellent selection.

18 Olin January 23, 2011 at 8:41 pm

This is a great poem with a lot of meaning. I’m glad it showed up here.

To me the metaphor of “bridge building” emphasizes the importance of community service in solving social problems (pitfalls, metaphorically). If we can do our part to build bridges over problems, whether or not they are problems that directly affect us, we will be able to take pride in helping to advance our society and make life better for those who come after us.


19 Philip January 23, 2011 at 9:40 pm


Many bridges have been built. We’ve wiped out many diseases that would otherwise cripple youth. We’ve built a food system that keeps a large part of the world from hunger and want. The Founding Fathers gave us a freer nation than had existed before. We’ve liberated children from the mines and the factory so they can go to school. Unions fought to give us a middle class. People built bridges that raised us above racism and sexism.

The old man built that bridge so the youth could conquer chasms that he would never even meet. There will always be another chasm ahead. If the youth is wise, he’ll pause on that bridge and remember the work of the old men who built it before him.

20 Chris January 23, 2011 at 9:56 pm


It’s always interesting to see how far the Dragon’s realm has spread.

And to continue upon the point that Phillip makes. The youth should not only remember the work of the old men, but he should take it upon himself to repair and improve the bridge. As anyone knows a bridge left to neglect will surely crumble and fall.

21 Steven January 24, 2011 at 10:07 am

Build a Bridge for others to follow.

@Chris and Olin


22 Drew January 24, 2011 at 11:23 am

What we do with our time now will have a lasting effect on those that come behind us.

@ Chris, Olin, and Steven


23 Tyler January 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I am a teacher and actually have this poem hanging next to my desk. Just a reminder about why we do what we do. In another way, we give the students the bricks or stones that they need to make the bridges further down the journey.

24 C.J. January 24, 2011 at 1:47 pm

This poem, and the lessons that followed it, really helped make me the man I am today. Great post.

@ Chris, Olin, Steven, and Drew


25 Steve Cianca January 24, 2011 at 3:30 pm

This poem is very familiar to Boy Scout leaders, at least in central Ohio. There is a recognition for scout leaders called the Bridge Builders Award which incorporates this poem into the award certificate.

26 Matt January 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm

This is just a fantastic poem, very inspiring.

27 Jeremy January 24, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Excellent poem.  


Your comment rings true, my friend.  These bridges, built upon the struggle, hardship and firm foundation of experience from those who have gone before us, are the key to building a generation of young men better than ourselves.  I’ve heard it said, if a parent can succeed in passing less than 50% of his/her own faults, bad habits, and self-brought pitfalls to his/her child, then they can succeed in their duty of parenting.

I believe we can gain strength and encouragement to continue doing what is right from leaders like this one, wise bridge builder.

28 Mick January 25, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I’m just a few short days away from turning 40. I don’t see it as a Mile-stone, but rather, as a Mill-stone. I see myself as the young man in this poem. Each step is drawing me closer to seeing the old mans bones on the wayside.
This poem makes me think about the reason I exist. To pave the way for my own children, so that they may travel faster, easier and give them the opportunity to achieve more than I was able in my own life.
Poems have a habit of meaning different things to different people, with no one meaning being totally correct. Who knows what was in the mind of the writer, except the writer themselves.

29 Hayes January 27, 2011 at 12:05 am

Not to be too repetitive, but I thought you guys might appreciate that this poem has guided the last three and some odd years of my life to a degree I never would have predicted. Have faith that your bridge still stands and that many more will cross.

@ C.J., Chris, Olin, Steven, and Drew


30 Chad January 29, 2011 at 9:20 am

Love this poem. I love how it is in a narration format.
I just finished memorizing “If” by Rudyard Kipling. I think this one may be next.

31 Joe Ryan January 31, 2011 at 2:11 pm

There’s an old saying that goes something like:

“A Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

This story reminded me a bit of that. Great stuff.

32 Nick Robinson February 4, 2011 at 9:54 am

Just here for my regular shot of manvotion, and this really did it,
thanks for this and the rest of the site

33 Paul Hass February 5, 2011 at 1:31 pm

A wonderful poem. Applicable to a number of my coaches in HS and college that filled the void of a father that passed away too early.

34 Adam February 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Hopefully my little brother will hear this poem soon.

@ C.J., Chris, Olin, Steven, Drew, and Hayes


35 MJ November 14, 2012 at 9:51 am

Those who have never brought life into this world, raised children, and experienced the joy, sorrow, and satisfaction of being a parent, will never truly understand this poem.

36 William The Bridge Builder June 14, 2013 at 10:37 am

It inspires me to be a better person.

37 clifford hebestreit July 16, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Liked the poem. Currently I am old, and building just such a bridge for a particular Youth who will follow and need help when she gets out of Prison, a daughter who would not lie or cast blame on any other. Her lesson in life, not mine. Still she will vault, if wise, to her life after Prison, by this ‘bridge’.

38 Patrick Ng'oma, Jr. August 12, 2013 at 1:53 pm

If we do not build bridges, we stunt the growth and advancement of those who come after us and condemn them to have the same struggles that would have defeated us.

39 Timo December 9, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Every once in a while I come back and read this poem. Somehow it touches me at a core level and I hope I can live up to a man like the bridge builder in that poem. I guess time will tell.

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