The Tragedy of Incompetence: A Poem From The Hardy Past

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This is a poem called “The Boy Who Can’t” written in 1920.

The poem is about a general mindset that is seldom spoken about in today’s world; Self improvement for the sake of simply being useful.

The poem is a call to action to see your life as an opportunity to learn things that will make life better for you and those around you through pushing yourself to transform.

I hope it finds you well,


The Boy Who Can’t (1920)

Hey, fellows, come closer, let each of us name
The worst kind of nuisance – we’ll call it a game.
“I vote for the fellow who’s never on time!”
“The fellow who always would borrow a dime!”
“The chap who takes pleasure in starting a fight!”
“The geezer, while camping, who snickers all night!”
Yes, those pests are terribly trying, I grant,
But I’ll cast my vote for the fellow who “can’t.”

He can’t rig a fish-pole, he can’t take a hike,
He can’t cook a flapjack or tinker his bike,
He can’t learn to signal, he can’t do first aid,
Can’t do without candy or pink lemonade,
Can’t follow a trail and can’t lace up his shoe,
Can’t do a blamed thing that you want him to do!
Oh, boy, I’d be happy if I could but plant
A swift kick on the rear of the fellow who can’t!

He can’t get his grammar or spelling or math,
Can’t split his kindling, he can’t take a bath,
He can’t help his mother, he can’t use his head;
Can’t rise in the morning and can’t go to bed,
He can’t find his collar, he can’t tie his tie –
He never knows what he could do if he’d try –
But repeats all day long his monotonous chant:
“Oh, Mamma; oh, Teacher; oh, Mister, I can’t.”

There’s great need in the world for the confident man
Who tackles his work with a hearty “I can!”
So, if you would succeed and find living a joy,
Just learn how to do things while you are a boy;
For the boy who refuses to work when he SHOULD,
Loses the power to work when he WOULD.
Weakness and softness his talents supplant,
And he finds at the test that he REALLY CAN’T.