Emerson Poem Success - Incorrectly Attributed

This often attributed to Emerson poem Success below is most likely not by Emerson after all. However, both versions of this famous quote “Success” provide some thoughtful reminders and considerations for how we define success and set and pursue our goals. I hope these poems inspire and motivate you to strive for the kind of success described!

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This popular quote about success if often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, however it is most likely not by him. It has not been able to be found in Emerson’s writing and it appears to be traceable to a 1905 publication by Bessie Stanley, although the wording is slightly different. This is most likely due to edits and adaptations over time.

I have included both versions of the poem here for your information and inspiration.

“Success”
Inaccurately attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.


“What Constitutes Success”
By Bessie Stanley (1905)

He has achieved success who has lived well,
laughed often and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.


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