In today’s instant gratification culture, the virtues of patience and resilience often get swept under the rug. But almost a century ago, poet Douglas Malloch crafted a wise metaphor reminding us that the strongest spirits are forged through adversity. His poem “Good Timber” uses the image of a tree battling the elements to highlight how struggling creates strength of character. By reflecting on the essence of this poem, we can reconnect with timeless wisdom on growth through hardship.
Good Timber Poem:
The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.
The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.
Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men, good timbers grow.
Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.
The Meaning of “Good Timber”
Malloch’s poem contrasts two types of trees and, by extension, two types of people. On the one hand, is the tree that lives an easy life “in the open plain,” always getting “its share of rain.”
Without ever having to fight for nutrients or withstand storms, this tree never develops into a towering forest giant. Likewise, the man who coasts through life without work or challenge remains weak and unaccomplished.
But the tree that’s forced to battle for “sun and sky and air and light” becomes hardy and resilient. This tree transforms into a “forest king.”
Similarly, it’s those who must “win their share” through toil and persistence that become the strongest individuals. If we avoid all discomfort, our character will remain underdeveloped.
Lessons from the Poem
Malloch’s poem contains several impactful lessons that are worth reflecting on:
- Overcoming challenges builds grit, resilience and inner fortitude. Each hardship we conquer makes us mentally tougher and more resilient for the next challenge.
- We must continue venturing outside our comfort zones if we want to reach our highest potential. Staying inside our safe bubbles leads to stagnation and lack of growth. Pushing boundaries is essential.
- What doesn’t defeat us ultimately makes us wiser and stronger. There is an opportunity for personal growth hidden within each hardship if we choose to learn from it.
- Achieving meaningful goals and a life well-lived requires consistent effort and resilience. Tenacity and persistence are required to accomplish things that deeply matter to us.
- Patience is key. Significant growth takes time, just as a tree develops strong timbers over many seasons of withstanding the elements.
- If we avoid all discomfort or adversity, our character will remain underdeveloped and spiritually weak. Some storms are necessary for growth.
About the Author Douglas Malloch
Douglas Malloch was a prolific poet and author in the early 20th century. He came from humble beginnings growing up in the lumber industry of Michigan. This inspired much of his nature-themed poetry.
Malloch went on to achieve great success and fame through diligent writing and public speaking. Many of his poems focused on meaningful themes like nature, work, and, specifically, building resilience through hardship.
He was commissioned to write the lyrics for the Michigan State Song and is best known for iconic poems such as “Good Timber” that use metaphors to highlight the character benefits of overcoming struggles.
Malloch urged readers not to take the easy road, but to willingly face difficulties that would expand their potential. His body of work aims to develop courage and resilience in the midst of life’s storms.
The wisdom in “Good Timber” continues to inspire readers today. Malloch’s legacy reminds us we have a choice: face challenges proactively and let them shape us positively, or avoid discomfort and remain unchanged.
The sagely metaphors in “Good Timber” remind us that a life without hardship is one unfulfilled. While adversity hurts, we can choose to emerge wiser, more compassionate, and spiritually stronger. Our mettle is tested in the storm, not in calm waters. Keep this timeless wisdom in mind, and remember Malloch’s words when you face your next challenge: “By sun and cold, by rain and snow, in trees and men good timbers grow.”