Lessons Learned from Poem, “George Gray”

“George Gray” by Edgar Lee Masters is one of my favorite poems. Below is the poem with my commentary:

I have studied many times

The marble which was chiseled for me—

A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.

In truth it pictures not my destination

But my life.

For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;

Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;

Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.

Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.

And now I know that we must lift the sail

And catch the winds of destiny

Wherever they drive the boat.

To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,

But life without meaning is the torture

Of restlessness and vague desire—

It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

The poem is voiced by a dead man who is pondering the ironic design of his gravestone. The marble sailboat is a most befitting symbol for his life – a tool of potential motion and adventure, encapsulated in granite and stone. George Gray lived a sheltered life of safety and comfort. In avoiding risk, pain, and adventure, he also missed out on all the things that make life sweet and give it meaning. He whispers to us not to make the same mistake, to live life to its fullest so that at its end, you may have no regrets as to the things you wish you had done and the man you wished you had become.

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