Words That Inspire: It Couldn’t Be Done

There are few things that motivate young people more than to be told that something can’t be done. High school student Ashe Jaafaru reads "It Couldn't Be Done", a poem by Edgar Albert Guest.
YES! Archive

It Couldn’t Be Done

by Edgar Albert Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn’t," but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one has done it";
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle it in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That "couldn’t be done," and you’ll do it.


There are few things that motivate young people more than to be told they shouldn’t do something or that something can’t be done. It’s a carrot that says, “Bet you can’t!” or “Double dare you!”

And there are times when being told It CAN'T be done for the umpteenth time feels like a heavy wool coat on a young person’s shoulders, causing her to slump forward, lower the head, and walk a bit slower.

Ashe Jaafaru, a high school student from Minneapolis, Minnesota, recorded this poem during the middle of No Impact Week (January 3-11, 2011). Her motivation? To rally her spirits and that of others who took on the challenge of No Impact Week’s activities like making no trash, buying local, and even taking a day off from electronics (can you imagine?!).

Note to Educators

Is there a saying or a phrase that rings so true with you that you want to say it over and over, like a chant or a mantra? Play Ashe Jaafaru's spoken-word recording of Edward Guest’s poem to your students. You and your students will feel the connection Ashe has with the poem by the way she reads it out loud. "It Couldn't Be Done"— written at least 50 years ago—has a timeless message.

What would this poem sound like in your classroom? Fall in love with this poem as Ashe did. Read it aloud as a class to remind each other that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. Once this poem has found a place with your students, you may extend the conversation with the following activity.

Have your students choose one of the following questions and write a response poem or a short story describing their thoughts and experiences. The poem or story can follow Guest’s style of rhyming and cadence or be free form. As a bonus, student may record their spoken-word poem to share with others, over and over again.

  • Think of reasons why people discourage their friends or tell them that they will fail. When you see discouragement around you, what can you do to change the situation or “make lemonade out of lemons”?
  • What is your dream? Why do you think it is important to stand by your dreams? What is standing in your way of doing something that is important to you?

About the poet

Edgar Albert Guest was hired as a copy boy for the Detroit Free Press in 1895 and worked his way up to the news department where he would work for almost 65 years.  The “people’s poet” published over 20 volumes of poetry and allegedly wrote over 11,000 poems. Of his poems he said, "I take simple everyday things that happen to me and I figure it happens to alot of other people and I make simple rhymes out of them."



No Paywall. No Ads. Just Readers Like You.
You can help fund powerful stories to light the way forward.
Donate Now.