Lessons Learned from Longfellow’s Blacksmith

by A Manly Guest Contributor on September 13, 2012 · 25 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness.

With last Monday being Labor Day, the unofficial end of Summer, I want to talk to you about determination, iron will, and hard work: lessons that I’ve learned from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith.”

My aim is to inspire you to continue pushing yourself to be better even though summer is over. The days will be getting shorter and colder, making many men feel the urge to pull the covers over their heads and hibernate. But while everyone else will begin a downward spiral until New Year’s Day, you’ll have been quietly and forcefully remolding yourself from now until then, hitting 2013 with a full head of steam.

Let’s see what Mr. Longfellow and his blacksmith can teach us.

The Village Blacksmith

Although you can read the poem in its entirety on Bartleby.com (highly recommended), I’d like to call your attention to a few key stanzas that have always strongly resonated with me:

His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

The Blacksmith is a man we should all aspire to be.  He understands that he is owed nothing simply for existing; his future is 100% dependent on himself and nobody else.  Thus, he pushes himself to be better, going to bed proud each night, knowing that he’s done the best that he possibly can to create a good life.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow.

The Blacksmith understands there will be periods of feast and famine, times of triumph and times of sorrow, days where everything goes right and days where everything goes wrong.  He doesn’t get overly excited when things go right, and he doesn’t pass the blame or make excuses when things go wrong.  He knows that success doesn’t happen overnight, but comes from constant improvement, day after day, for weeks, months, and years at a time.

Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Every morning, the Blacksmith sets out to begin a new task, and by the end of the day gets it completed.  The Blacksmith understands the importance of getting things done. He removes all distractions, picks up his hammer, and gets to work!  Once he’s completed his tasks for the day, he goes home to spend time with his friends and family, leaving the day’s toils and worries behind to focus on quality time with his loved ones.  He’s found a work-life balance that makes him happy.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

The Blacksmith understands that he can forge his own future, by any method he deems fit.  A life worth living will require thousands of hammer swings, but he is in full control of how that hammer is swung.

You Are the Blacksmith

Starting today, I want you to imagine yourself as the Blacksmith and your life as the iron.  You can be an ACTUAL blacksmith if you’d like, but for today let’s stick with looking at things figuratively.  It’s your job to melt down, mold, hammer, and recreate your iron into something beautiful, functional, and strong.  Nobody is responsible for the shape of your iron except for you, which is a wonderful thing. You can wake up excited about what the day will hold, and go to bed proud of your accomplishments.  You can look at your iron, channel your inner Tom Hanks, and yell, “LOOK WHAT I HAVE CREATED” into the heavens.

It’s also important to know that failure is not a bad thing, it’s simply the breaking down of your iron.  As mentioned earlier, iron must be broken down and melted before it can be recreated into something stronger.  Every time you eat a healthier meal, read a book instead of mindlessly surfing the internet, or decide to exercise rather than sleeping in, you are swinging your hammer and molding the iron into something greater.  Conversely, every time you fail at getting healthy, or fail at winning, or fail at whatever new plan you had for your life, you’ve successfully identified a path that doesn’t work for you!  Congratulations, now you can move on to a different method in treating your life as a personal experiment.

Identify ways that you can improve your work-life balance.  Do you often wake up overwhelmed, look at the 100 things on your to-do list, and then get exactly NONE of them actually DONE?  Until I learned to manage my time at my computer, that was me.  Work invaded my personal life and I struggled to separate the two, not giving my work nor my friends and family the full attention they deserved.  Then, I decided to treat productivity like a piece of iron that could be fixed, hammering away and improving a little bit each day for months, until I emerged a radically different (and far more productive) person.  I now have plenty of time to read, exercise and explore, relax with friends, and spend uninterrupted time with loved ones.

Understand that it will take thousands of swings of your hammer, steady and measured, to shape your iron into something you’ll be proud to call your own.  It won’t happen overnight.  It won’t happen in a week.  It can take months and months of steady swings to improve yourself physically, while it might take years to improve yourself mentally or spiritually. Don’t let that deter you — each day, focus on just making tiny changes and measured improvements.  My friend Joe is one of the best blacksmiths I know — he quietly swung his hammer for months and created something incredible, dropping 128 pounds in 10 months.

You are the Blacksmith.  Your hammer swings up to this point in your life have made your iron into what you see in the mirror.  If you are unhappy with the state, shape, and style of your iron, that’s okay!  There is absolutely no reason you can’t fire up your forge today and start remaking it.  Like iron being heated, melted, and rebuilt stronger, your body is broken down and rebuilt stronger with every workout and every healthy meal.  Your failures bring you one step closer towards finding a method that works.  So start swinging!

You have the ability to craft your future in the forge of life, nobody will create your future for you.  Nobody will hand you your blueprint for a perfectly crafted body, or a finely tuned intellect.  It must be earned through blood, sweat, and tears.  You must grab your hammer, and continually swing in order to rework, remold, and restart.  Make your iron.

As summer winds down, a majority of folks close down the forge until January when New Year’s resolutions dictate that they should, “probably make some changes.”  I challenge you today to keep the fires burning through the coming months.  I challenge you to push yourself to become a better blacksmith, to craft a better piece of iron, to find a way to balance your life, work, and family.

Today. Tomorrow. And every day after that.

Grab your hammer and start swinging.  


When he’s not trying to be a better man, Steve Kamb is helping nerds and average joes level up their lives at NerdFitness.com.  You can sign up for the Nerd Fitness Rebellion and connect with Steve at @SteveKamb.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pat G September 13, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Steve, as iron sharpens iron. Good stuff sir.

2 Michael September 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Very inspirational! Thank-you.

3 ook September 14, 2012 at 1:27 am

Great post. Nerd Fitness and The Art of Manliness are the only two blogs that I read on a regular basis. I’d never read this poem before, but WOW, I just did. That was excellent.

4 Mato Tope September 14, 2012 at 2:01 am

A rallying cry to us all!
If, through the dark months ahead we knuckle down, measuring out our days in meaningful, productive work allied with exercise, reflection and meditation we will be living life to its fullest and reap even more rewards in the coming year.
When practicality and spirituality combine we embody the words of Saint Irenaeus;
“The glory of God is a man fully alive!”

5 Aaron September 14, 2012 at 6:40 am

Great writeup. And excellent followup to yesterdays post pertaining to motivational office/working posters of times past.
Now if you’ll excuse me, its time to get back to hammering.

6 Benny September 14, 2012 at 8:00 am

I can’t even describe how inspirational and encouraging this is for me. So thankful that I found this today. Today I start ‘smithing.

7 Rick Kinser September 14, 2012 at 8:16 am

What an excellent read.

8 Robyn September 14, 2012 at 9:01 am

I have often thought that of all the professions throughout history, the blacksmith had the best job:
1. He mostly worked out of doors.
2. He used his creative abilities to solve problems.
3. Those creative abilities could also be used for fun, entertainment and whimsy.
4. He met lots of people male and female from all walks of life all coming to him for help.
5. He ran his own business. He was his own boss.
6. His business was portable. If he had to relocate for some reason, his business could easily be moved and he could almost always be assured of customers no matter where he went.
7. His business was usually located centrally and was a gathering place for the community to exchange news and to socialize.
8. His talents were always in demand.
9. He made steady income.
Isn’t that an ideal job!

9 Will September 14, 2012 at 9:25 am

This poem was one of my favorites in Manvotionals. Getting it analyzed by my Nerd Fitness hero? Today is a good day, my friends.

10 Hartmann September 14, 2012 at 11:42 am

Even though I’m many years out of school, September has always felt like the true start of a new year.
Thanks for the timely inspiration.

11 Will C. September 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Always a pleasure reading Steve’s work. He inspired me to get busy reforging my own iron into stronger and stronger forms.

12 Alexander Lee September 14, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Thanks for the article. It is such an amazing thing to see great works of literature being taken as they were intended: as tools to help demonstrate what is important in life and how to get it.

You don’t fall into either of the ordinary camps: that of the stuffy intellectual uninterested in the practical task of living, or that of the ignorant consumer of popular culture.

13 Doug September 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I have always treated fall kind of like a private New Year (probably because it was the start of school/cross country season.) For me, this piece was perfectly timed. Thank you.

14 Ray September 14, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Luctor et Emergo!

15 KambizAmini September 15, 2012 at 4:05 am

Thanks. Great article! Very inspirational!

16 PDF to JPG online converter September 15, 2012 at 8:17 am

Nice work of Steve. Thanks for the article.

17 Native Son September 16, 2012 at 9:35 am

(Twp hammer taps on anvil) Of course, let’s not forget that the old-time blacksmith was half deaf from all the hammering on iron! I know from experience…”Speak UP! What did you say?”
(One vigorous hammer tap on anvil)

18 Izzy September 16, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Steve this is a beautiful, inspiring, yet practical piece of writing.

I enjoyed it because it focuses and respects the power of process. But at the same time it also implies at a bigger picture.

It’s doing the work for the love of the work while at the same time doing the work because we know that overtime it will take us somewhere great.

I often wonder what separates those that get this and those that don’t. It’s a big question.

I still don’t quite understand the answer. I know that a deep sense of purpose in our daily actions can lead to an intense passion to do the work everyday. But then this leads to the question: How does one find a deep sense of purpose?

Of course, I would be completely disregarding the power of this article if I wasn’t attempting to answer them in my own life.

Everyday I wake up, and I take more and more steps towards my dream. I moved to Japan about a year ago and am pursuing my childhood dream – to become a ninja. As I move forward with it everyday, I learn more and more what this means to me.

It has required work every single day to get where I am, and will take substantially more to get where I want to. But I embrace it :).

Truly a wonderful post. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

19 J. Delancy September 16, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Always wanted to do blacksmithing. Closest I ever came was to become a certified welder.
It’s hard to describe the feeling that comes when you make steel into something beautiful and enduring.
“For he owes not any man.” Also true. Being out of debt changes a man, the way he sees himself and the world.

Never thought of writing a post this way on my blog. Thanks for the inspiration.

20 Daniel September 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Having poetry analyzed this way is awesome. Sometimes I am reminded that Nike has the best slogan, just do it. No excuses and go.

21 Martin September 18, 2012 at 11:08 am

Very inspirational, thank you very much! Greetings from Argentina

22 Brian Reinholz September 18, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Yes yes yes. It’s all about follow-through, whether at work or in our personal lives.

The blacksmith doesn’t have time to blame culture, other people, or God for his problems, and neither do we. Let’s get to work!

23 weza525@yahoo.com September 22, 2012 at 7:48 am

as a former wrestler, this is perfect. it empowers a man to embrace the grind; to respect it. my father was a carpenter but still a jack of all trades and would come home sore as could be, back pain and all. somehow, he would seem to be absolutely painless when he would practice infield with my little league teams hitting grounders and popups.I simply could not have asked just for a better father, but for a better man to look up to

24 Jerry Lindsey September 22, 2012 at 10:58 am

This was my Mother’s favorite poem and consequently it became one of my favorites. I remember her reciting it to me when I was no more than 6 or 7 years old and as I grew, I formed truly inspiring mental images of the ‘smitty at his forge, working away. I could see his crisp long hair and mighty muscles as he worked. I think this poem had a strong influence in my life as I gained an early understanding of its deeper meaning. Thanks for stirring a great memory and bringing a tear of joy and remembrance,

25 A.S Falcon September 25, 2012 at 9:16 am


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