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What’s in an arrow that flies

R.H. Stoddard

Last week a client asked me why I chosed the slogan “Life’s an arrow’s flight” for my coaching practice, so I thought that maybe the explanation is worth sharing.

“Life’s an arrow’s flight” is a verse from a lyric by the American poet Richard Henry Stoddard. Before my client’s question, I knew anything about him (and actually I wrongly attributed the verse to Robert Burns). It is a verse that has been staying with me for nearly thirthy years since I memorized the lyric it belongs to as part of a homework assignment in high school. For thirthy years it stayed in my memory, I never wrote or recited it again, just kept recalling it, as it happens with old memories that just stuck. I forgot the whole poem and the author.

Then, when I turned forty, the verse assumed a new force, because it is about life, and life goes by.

When I started to work as a counselor it became even strongly present. So I used it as a blog title and then as a slogan for my coaching practice. M job is working on lives (mine and other’s) and I love the idea of direction (having or looking for it) in life plus the idea of flight which in turn gives me the sense of lightness, movement and freedom.

Finally I found also in this metaphor of life a sense of speed which is like a warning: life goes by fast, don’t resist it, continue to change and live fully.

When my client asked, I started researching the lyric and the author, discovering that this single lyric of his is quite widespread on the Internet (actually it seems the only one). I wondered when and where it had been published for the first time, so I looked in Stoddard complete works (The poems of Richard Henry Stoddard, 2009 reprint found on Amazon and also online ) but I have not been able to find it. However I discovered that the poem was published on various local newspapers at the end of the 19th century in those miscellaneous pages where readers could find small stories, curiosity, local news and poetry. So for example, I found it on page 4 of the Kansas City journal on Saturday March 5, 1898 or in a New-York Tribune account of a a musical performance on January 5th, 1909. So it seems that the poem has been popular for more than a century.

Here it is the full version:

The Flight Of The Arrow

The life of man
Is an arrow’s flight,
Out of darkness
Into light,
And out of light
Into darkness again;
Perhaps to pleasure,
Perhaps to pain!
There must be Something,
Above, or below;
Somewhere unseen
A mighty Bow,
A Hand that tires not,
A sleepless Eye
That sees the arrows
Fly, and fly;
One who knows
Why we live—and die.

R.H. Stoddard

In a future post I plan to elaborate on the full text, which offers many other suggestions.

On the theme of the arrow, another client told me: “You took the slogan from Paolo Coelho, right? It applies to coaching perfectly”. I was surprised, because I know Coelho books, but I did not recall one about flying arrows and life.

Then I found this on Paolo Coehlo blog:

“The arrow”

The arrow is your intention. It is what joins the strength of the bow to the center of the target.

Our intentions have to be crystal-clear, straight and well balanced.

Once it leaves, it will not return, so it is better to interrupt a process – because the movements that led up to it were not precise and correct – than to act in any way just because the bow was already taut and the target already waiting.

But never fail to show your intention if the only thing that paralyzes you is the fear of making a mistake. If you perform the right movements, open your hand and release the string, take the necessary steps and face your challenges. Even if you do not hit the target, you will know how to correct your aim the next time.

If you do not take risks, you will never know the changes that needed to be made.”

P. Coelho

And I agree, it’s a perfect definition of the process, the features and outcomes of coaching.

So my coaching practice slogan comes from a bit of a old memory, partly wrong, of something (a “meme“?) who has been around for a century and the same slogan recall a beautiful writing of a contemporary writer, and it includes my personal feeling about the life that flows. Also, it seems I learn a lot from my clients about myself :-).

That’s how life (and I) works!

The same goes on for my practice name “Alzaia”: I’ll cover it in the next post.

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