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Poem to Margaret
Mark Twain


Be good, be good, be always good,
And now & then be clever,
But don’t you ever be too good,
Nor ever be too clever;

For such as be too awful good
They awful lonely are,
And such as often clever be
Get cut & stung & trodden on by persons of lesser mental capacity,
for this kind do by a law of their construction regard exhibitions of
superior intellectuality as an offensive impertinence leveled at
their lack of this high gift, & are prompt to resent such-like
exhibitions in the manner above indicated
& are they justifiable?
Alas, alas they

(It is not best to go on; I think the line is already longer than it ought to be for real true poetry.)


This poem is in the public domain.



Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain (1835 - 1910), was an American novelist and humorist. Born in Missouri, he suffered ill health as a child and lost his father at the age of 12. A year later, to help keep his family fed, Samuel left school to become a printer's apprentice. He eventually went to work at his brother?s newspaper and discovered that he enjoyed, and had a gift for, writing. At 21, Samuel embarked on a career as a steamboat pilot, but the Civil War forced him to head west and, after an unsuccessful attempt as a prospecting career, he went to work as a newspaper reporter and soon carved out a reputation as one of the most entertaining storytellers—in print and in person--around. In the course of his life, Samuel wrote 28 books and innumerable letters, essays, and short stories and is today considered one of America?s greatest literary icons.






Post New Comment:
Seems my mother had a similar directive for me: Be good, do well, but don't put yourself forward! Confusing. Accurate poem of how it works for some people!
Posted 01/27/2017 03:52 PM
Larry Schug:
Very cool, Jayne! I seem to read beneath everything and I'm reading a message very pertinent to the present world. Lucky little girl--I wonder if Margaret appreciated what she received with this.
Posted 01/27/2017 10:50 AM
My best guess--though my research has not been able to confirm it--is that this was written to Margaret Gray Blackmer, one of Twain's many "adopted granddaughters." Read more at
Posted 01/27/2017 08:02 AM
Gary Busha:
I'm glad he stuck to novels/short stories instead of poetry.
Posted 01/27/2017 07:50 AM
Twain is giving us/her an example of being too clever. Thanks, Jayne!
Posted 01/27/2017 07:18 AM
Sharon Waller Knutson:
This is what says about Twain's Poem to Margaret: "More than four decades after his advice to little girls, Twain penned some verses for one of the favorite little girls in his club, which he called the Aquarium, trailing off into complete deviation from the meter and ending with a note of playful self-awareness."
Posted 01/27/2017 06:13 AM
My 1st ever~a cliffhanger in cadence & meter. Mystery & fun! Thanks, Samuel & Jayne.
Posted 01/27/2017 05:01 AM
David Lloyd-Jones:
OK. Right. Now, who was Margaret? And, uh, person who wrote the screed at the bottom, how did it not occur to you to tell us? We already know he "carved out a reputation" blah-blah-blah. But Margaret? This, unlike his reputation, is not known to us, the wide public. :-(
Posted 01/27/2017 02:52 AM
I'd love to know what prompted this poem!
Posted 01/27/2017 02:05 AM

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