Joe Biden The Happy Warrior – The Poetry Teacher is in the Room

Someone asked me today why President Obama referred to Joe Biden as a “Happy Warrior”. This was not the first time someone put this question to me in the past two days. The answer is simple. It comes from the Wordsworth poem “Character of the Happy Warrior” – Basically the poem is about Lord Horatio Nelson who died at the battle of Trafalgar. The term “Happy Warrior” has become a metaphor for a person that faithfully and dutifully does his duty while exhibiting characteristics of honor, joviality, and strength. Whether or not you share this opinion of Joe Biden, this is what that moniker means.

Character of the Happy Warrior

By William Wordsworth

  Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he

That every man in arms should wish to be?

—It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought

Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought

Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought:

Whose high endeavours are an inward light

That makes the path before him always bright;

Who, with a natural instinct to discern

What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn;

Abides by this resolve, and stops not there,

But makes his moral being his prime care;

Who, doomed to go in company with Pain,

And Fear, and Bloodshed, miserable train!

Turns his necessity to glorious gain;

In face of these doth exercise a power

Which is our human nature’s highest dower:

Controls them and subdues, transmutes, bereaves

Of their bad influence, and their good receives:

By objects, which might force the soul to abate

Her feeling, rendered more compassionate;

Is placable—because occasions rise

So often that demand such sacrifice;

More skilful in self-knowledge, even more pure,

As tempted more; more able to endure,

As more exposed to suffering and distress;

Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.

—’Tis he whose law is reason; who depends

Upon that law as on the best of friends;

Whence, in a state where men are tempted still

To evil for a guard against worse ill,

And what in quality or act is best

Doth seldom on a right foundation rest,

He labours good on good to fix, and owes

To virtue every triumph that he knows:

—Who, if he rise to station of command,

Rises by open means; and there will stand

On honourable terms, or else retire,

And in himself possess his own desire;

Who comprehends his trust, and to the same

Keeps faithful with a singleness of aim;

And therefore does not stoop, nor lie in wait

For wealth, or honours, or for worldly state;

Whom they must follow; on whose head must fall,

Like showers of manna, if they come at all:

Whose powers shed round him in the common strife,

Or mild concerns of ordinary life,

A constant influence, a peculiar grace;

But who, if he be called upon to face

Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined

Great issues, good or bad for human kind,

Is happy as a Lover; and attired

With sudden brightness, like a Man inspired;

And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law

In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw;

Or if an unexpected call succeed,

Come when it will, is equal to the need:

—He who, though thus endued as with a sense

And faculty for storm and turbulence,

Is yet a Soul whose master-bias leans

To homefelt pleasures and to gentle scenes;

Sweet images! which, wheresoe’er he be,

Are at his heart; and such fidelity

It is his darling passion to approve;

More brave for this, that he hath much to love:—

‘Tis, finally, the Man, who, lifted high,

Conspicuous object in a Nation’s eye,

Or left unthought-of in obscurity,—

Who, with a toward or untoward lot,

Prosperous or adverse, to his wish or not—

Plays, in the many games of life, that one

Where what he most doth value must be won:

Whom neither shape or danger can dismay,

Nor thought of tender happiness betray;

Who, not content that former worth stand fast,

Looks forward, persevering to the last,

From well to better, daily self-surpast:

Who, whether praise of him must walk the earth

For ever, and to noble deeds give birth,

Or he must fall, to sleep without his fame,

And leave a dead unprofitable name—

Finds comfort in himself and in his cause;

And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws

His breath in confidence of Heaven’s applause:

This is the happy Warrior; this is he

That every man in arms should wish to be.
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