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Photo of an outreached hand slipping below the waves

The Sting of Defeat

By Jeremy Madsen


Have you ever tasted the sting of defeat?
Have you ever fled the disgraceful retreat?
Have you ever mastered a marvelous feat
To only find out it’s become obsolete?
Have you ever tasted defeat?
You know well—that it doesn’t taste sweet

Have you ever risen right up to the top
And felt there was nothing to force you to stop
Before plunging straight to the bottomless depths
Of the ultimate drop?

Have you ever felt your life’s dream within range?
But once you come near, it’s become something strange?
Something horribly queer?
And you wish you could locate life’s customer service
To get an exchange,
But they won’t lend an ear?

Have you lost the campaign by a traitorous vote?
Or forgotten a phrase you recited by rote?
Or despaired on the dock after missing the boat?
Or sang all the song well but the very last note?

Have you won second place, when second meant nothing?
Have you wanted it all, but only got something?
Have you reached for the stars
But when down came your hand,
All that was there was empty air?
And you stood there
And wondered how much you could stand
Before you would crack and dissolve into sand?

Have you ever set goals, and charted a plan
To reach those goals, and you started out grand
But your friends took your goals, and ripped them in two,
And burned them to ash, and laughed in your face
And left you alone, in disgusting disgrace
And to what you should do
You hadn’t a clue
But to just . . . start anew

Have you ever set eyes on a mountaintop high,
And you set out to climb right into the sky;
Only to falter one foot from the top
And despite all your efforts,
You cannot deny that your body must stop
And you lie there alone, all alone, and you cry
And you wish you could die?

What do you do?

When you have to retreat,
Or come short of the top,
Or there’s nothing to eat,
Or they force you to stop,
Or your courage is beat
Or you stumble and cry
For your life’s incomplete,
And you wish you could die
’Cause you can’t bear that taste
That bitter, stinging, biting taste of defeat?

What do you do?

For if you get back up
Stand firm on your feet
And you swear you will try
To battle defeat
And though tears try to cry
You wipe them dry
And though people may mock
You pass them by
And though the world screams, give up!
You just won’t die

For if you stumble short
But just keep going;
Come in last place
But just keep running;
Battle fate on its terms
But refuse to cease fighting;
Feel the sun sink behind you
But look for its dawning;
Have the whole world against you
But never stop trying

Then you will know that you are not beat
And the soul that is down is the soul of Defeat.
And though this may seem contradictory
When you fall, but arise
Is your victory.


Photo of a hiker on the summit of a rocky peak, looking out over a majestic valley

Jeremy wrote this poem in 2013.


When have you felt “the sting of defeat? How did you overcome it? We appreciate any thoughtful and respectful comments.


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