I was in the Gyeongbokgung subway station yesterday and happened to notice this piece of inspirational poetry posted on the "anti-suicide" doors (there are doors in many subway stations now along the platform edges, which prevents people from falling or jumping into the track area before the train comes – so I think of them as anti-suicide doors, though I'm sure they have other justifications as well). I snapped a picture.
The poem is by an American, Douglas Malloch, apparently a Freemason and lumberjack, among other things. The text on the door is in English on the right, translated to Korean on the left.
The tone and message of the poem is so "Korean" I can see why it was selected for inspiriational subway poetry. There is a lot of subway poetry, these days, but most of it is Korean, of course – as is only right.
Oddly, there is no wikipedia entry about Malloch – doesn't anyone who ever wrote a book have a wikipedia entry? But I googled a masonic website with a page dedicated to his work. Here's the poem from the subway door.
Be the Best of Whatever You Are
If you can't be a pine on the top of the hill,
Be a scrub in the valley — but be
The best little scrub by the side of the rill;
Be a bush if you can't be a tree.
If you can't be a bush be a bit of the grass,
And some highway happier make;
If you can't be a muskie then just be a bass —
But the liveliest bass in the lake!
We can't all be captains, we've got to be crew,
There's something for all of us here,
There's big work to do, and there's lesser to do,
And the task you must do is the near.
If you can't be a highway then just be a trail,
If you can't be the sun be a star;
It isn't by size that you win or you fail —
Be the best of whatever you are!
It's preceded by this quote:
"We all dream of great deeds and high positions, away from the pettiness and humdrum of ordinary life. Yet success is not occupying a lofty place or doing conspicuous work; it is being the best that is in you. Rattling around in too big a job is worse than filling a small one to overflowing. Dream, aspire by all means; but do not ruin the life you must lead by dreaming pipe dreams of the one you would like to lead. Make the most of what you have and are. Perhaps your trivial, immediate task is your one sure way of proving your mettle. Do the thing near at hand, and great things will come to your hand to be done."