Poetry analysis: “Equipment” by Edgar A. Guest

I am constantly seeking ways to help my students develop a love for poetry. I strongly believe that poetry helps children develop not only an interest in reading but also a love for writing. Unlike books and essays, poems are short and many of the same devices used in poetry are used in prose. A line in poetry is similar to a sentence in prose. A stanza is similar to a paragraph. A simile is used in both poetry and prose. Like prose, poems are often written from a certain point of view, follow a certain genre, and tell memorable stories. 

I use a variety of tools including graphic organizers, P.L.O.R.E., read aloud, read silently, reader’s theater, memorization, and even costumes to help my students develop a love for poetry.  

The poem, Equipment, by Edgar A. Guest is a student favorite because of the positive message. It’s also universal, although Guest addresses the “lad,” which is mostly thought of as a young male, the poem actually has universal appeal that both male and female can embrace. 

Edgar Albert Guest was born in 1881 in Birmingham, England. He moved to American when he was 10 and became a naturalized citizen soon after. He became known as the “People’s Poet” because of the optimistic nature of his life’s work and his popularity.  His poem, Equipment, was Dr.  George Washington Carver’s favorite poem. The reading below is of Dr. Carver who  read this poem it at an audio station at the George Washington Carver Museum.

Equipment

By Edgar A. Guest

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You’ve all that the greatest of men have had,
Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,
And a brain to use if you would be wise.
With this equipment they all began,
So start for the top and say ‘I can.’

Look them over, the wise and great,
They take their food from a common plate
And similar knives and forks they use,
With similar laces they tie their shoes,
The world considers them brave and smart.
But you’ve all they had when they made their start.

You can triumph and come to skill,
You can be great if only you will,
You’re well equipped for what fight you choose,
You have legs and arms and a brain to use,
And the man who has risen, great deeds to do
Began his life with no more than you.

You are the handicap you must face,
You are the one who must choose your place,
You must say where you want to go.
How much you will study the truth to know,
God has equipped you for life, But He
Lets you decide what you want to be.

Courage must come from the soul within,
The man must furnish the will to win,
So figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You were born with all that the great have had,
With your equipment they all began.
Get hold of yourself, and say: ‘I can.’ 

Analysis: In this poem, Edgar A. Guest speaks to young people. He challenges them to look within and believe in themselves. He explains that God has given them all that they need to succeed. He explains that they are no different than the “greatest of men.” All that they is needed is the will to dig deep, use what God has given them, and achieve great heights. 

STANZA 1:

  • This poem is written in couplets (a pair of lines of the same length that rhyme and complete one thought). In stanza 1, there are three couplets that challenge the “lad” to figure it out by realizing that he/she has all of the same “equipment” to succeed, just like the “greatest of men.”
  • The tone (poet’s attitude) of this poem is one of determined optimism. In the first stanza, he optimistically insists that you, we, the “lad” is quite capable. She must figure it out, use her brain, and and begin with two words: “I can.”

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You’ve all that the greatest of men have had,
Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,
And a brain to use if you would be wise.
With this equipment they all began,
So start for the top and say ‘I can.’

STANZA 2:

  • He begins by telling the lad to “Look them over” and he uses an appositive (clarifying information that’s set off with a comma) to explain who “them” are.  
  • He uses everyday examples to draw parallels between “them” and the “lad” and he uses the word “similar” twice to emphasize his point.
  • He also uses the conjunction “but” to to bring the “brave and smart” back to the beginning when they made their start, when they weren’t great, when they were students in school, just like the “lad.”  

Look them over, the wise and great,
They take their food from a common plate
And similar knives and forks they use,
With similar laces they tie their shoes,
The world considers them brave and smart.
But you’ve all they had when they made their start.

STANZAS 3 & 4:

  • “You are the handicap you face” is a metaphor that tells the student that she creates her own obstacles. She must face her own doubts and overcome her fears. 
  • He uses anaphora (repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines) to shift the focus to “you.” His goal is to get the individual to see herself as one who can do it. In Stanza 1, he instructed her to say it. Now, he is drilling the point that she is equipped, she is able, and she absolutely can. 
  • In Stanza 4, he instructs the student to get out of her own way, speak truth over her life, study hard, and believe that God has equipped her to succeed.

You can triumph and come to skill,
You can be great if only you will,
You’re well equipped for what fight you choose,
You have legs and arms and a brain to use,
And the man who has risen, great deeds to do
Began his life with no more than you.

You are the handicap you must face,
You are the one who must choose your place,
You must say where you want to go.
How much you will study the truth to know,
God has equipped you for life, But He
Lets you decide what you want to be.

STANZA 5

  • He uses strong words like “courage” and “soul” and “will” to spark determination within the lad. 
  • He repeats his opening line, “figure it out for yourself, my lad,” to remind the lad that, ultimately, she must put in the work in order to succeed. 
  • He closes by repeating another line that places emphasis on the importance of speaking positive words to and about ourselves. 

Courage must come from the soul within,
The man must furnish the will to win,
So figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You were born with all that the great have had,
With your equipment they all began.
Get hold of yourself, and say: ‘I can.’ 

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2 thoughts on “Poetry analysis: “Equipment” by Edgar A. Guest

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