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“Opportunity” by Edward Rowland Sill

photo with quote "this I beheld or dreamed it in a dream"

It’s Not about the Tools

Sometimes you think what you have just isn’t good enough. I’ve been there. When I became a homeowner, my dad gave me a drill for Christmas. It had a cord. Well, that was fine, right? I probably wasn’t going to need to use it very far away from an outlet, right?


There came a point, early in my ownership of a 110-plus-year-old house, when I found myself in the attic with that drill. My wife and I were replacing a broken ceiling fan in one of the upstairs bedrooms, and (surprise) the fan wasn’t attached to the ceiling in any kind of secure way. We sighed. It was becoming standard procedure for us to run across yet another bad DIY job.

So I got out the ladder and clambered through the trapdoor into the attic, a dark, hot, floorless place where I had to step carefully on joists to avoid falling through the ceiling. There I crouched, trying to drill holes, and then screws, into a block of wood to fasten it to a joist so we could hang the fan. My wife stood below, where the cord of my drill dangled through the ceiling hole for the light fixture. The cord wasn’t long enough to allow much room to maneuver. So there I crouched.

And it turns out that hundred-year-old wood is nearer to cement than plant matter. And I didn’t have good drill bits.

It took a while.

But eventually, I had a secure point on which to attach the fan from below. I didn’t have what I thought were great tools (though I guess it could have been worse—imagine doing that without a power drill!). However, I persevered, used what I had, and got the job done.

Life is like that sometimes. When it is, we need Edward Rowland Sill’s poem “Opportunity.”

“Opportunity” by Edward Rowland Sill
From The Poetical Works of Edward Rowland Sill, 1906

This I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream:—
There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;
And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged
A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords
Shocked upon swords and shields. A prince’s banner
Wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.
A craven hung along the battle’s edge,
And thought, “Had I a sword of keener steel—
That blue blade that the king’s son bears,—but this
Blunt thing—!” he snapt and flung it from his hand,
And lowering crept away and left the field.
Then came the king’s son, wounded, sore bestead,
And weaponless, and saw the broken sword,
Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,
And ran and snatched it, and with battle-shout
Lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down,
And saved a great cause that heroic day.

The Lingo

Some of the words in this poem are a little old school, but that’s OK. People learn words by hearing other people use them. As long as you know what they mean, you’ll communicate that meaning and give someone else a new word experience.

  • hemmed by foes = surrounded by bad guys
  • craven = coward
  • keener = sharper (maybe like that sword in Kung Fu Panda that’s so sharp you can cut yourself just by looking at it)
  • snapt = how snapped should probably be spelled, right?
  • lowering = acting all frumpy
  • sore bestead = in a really bad way
  • hilt-buried = the blade (well, what was left of it) was buried up to the handle
  • trodden = packed down by people walking on it
  • hewed his enemy down = cut ’em all down (this is more about pwnage than gore)

Performance Tips

As you perform “Opportunity,” here are a few things you can do to help your audience understand the poem:

  • Spread your hands out like the dust spreading along the plain
  • Pound your fist in the air like a sword shocking on a sword or shield
  • Look really concerned when the prince’s banner wavers
  • Put a cowardly look on your face when you mention the craven
  • Make a snapping motion when the craven snaps the blade
  • Look frumpy when the craven leaves the field of battle
  • Act tired and hurt when the prince arrives, wounded and weaponless
  • Look excited and relieved when the prince sees the broken sword
  • Make a snatching motion when the prince snatches the sword
  • Pump your fist in the air when the prince is victorious

Memorize It

Use this recording to memorize “Opportunity” by Edward Rowland Sill. Just play it on repeat until you get it down. Come back to it in a couple days if you can’t remember all of it.

“Opportunity” by Edward Rowland Sill

Go Forth and Perform

So let’s say your son is frumpy because his shoes don’t light up like some of the other kids’ shoes. Or your niece isn’t thrilled about driving her grandma’s old not-quite-a-clunker for her first car. Maybe you say, “You know, that reminds me of a poem . . .”

However you find an opportunity, add Edward Rowland Sill’s “Opportunity” to your quiver of memorized poems, and you’ll be ready to give an encouraging performance whenever the occasion calls for it.