What is Success? Poem Summary and Line by Line Explanation in English Class 9th


Ralph Emerson confers a mint definition of success through this poem. The poem denies the materialistic aspects of success and makes success look easier to achieve.  

The poem is written in free verse. The language is lucid and direct.


Line 1-6

What is success?
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends

The poem begins with the question of the century, what is success? In this fast-moving and money-making world, each one struggles to acquire the apex position or aspires to become the wealthiest. However, the poet has a new meaning for success. To be successful is to laugh often and laugh wholeheartedly. It is to be respected, to earn the intelligent person’s respect. To be loved and adored by children. To excel so well that even the sternest and most honest critic can not help but appreciate your work. To be strong enough to survive the betrayal of false friends. 

Line 7-14

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

To be successful is to search for the good in everything, to be positive, to see the world through a beautiful lens, and unearth the best in people. To leave behind a legacy. For some, it could be their virtuous progeny and some, their contribution to the environment and social causes. The true meaning of being successful is to make an impact on the world. It is when you have made life easier for someone, made them happy. This is to have succeeded.


Most times we search for answers that don’t need to be searched, they are right in front of us. We are too competitive to realise that we do not need to have what someone else has to be happy or succeed. Life is the only test where everyone has a different question paper, so copying someone else’s answer will not help us pass. Instead, we must compete with our own selves and try to become better versions. Being successful is to be surrounded by people that love and appreciate you.