‘Will’ Poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox – Poem, Meaning, Summary, and Poem Analysis

About Ella Wheeler Wilcox and the poem ‘Will’

Ella Wheeler Wilcox was a nineteenth-century American poet and author. As someone who took to writing poetry at a very young age, her works trace her own experiences in life, flowing through from one theme about the sensitivity of life, to another.

‘Will’ by Wilcox is one such motivational poem, which was published as a part of Wilcox’s poetry collection ‘Poetical Works of Ella Wheeler Wilcox’ in 1917. The poem focuses on the significance of willpower in determining the life of a person. A firm resolve and determination triumph over all other factors, when it comes to reaching one’s goal.

Summary of the poem ‘Will’

In the poem ‘Will’ by Wilcox, the speaker confidently states that willpower is the paramount factor in deciding what is to be in a person’s life. In the opening lines of the poem, it is said that chance, destiny, or fate do not have the power to interfere with the willpower of a resolute person.

Similarly, inherent talent has no place either, in front of will. Sooner or later, determination shall triumph over all other such qualities. The speaker compares a strong-willed individual to a river and the sun; in both cases, there is no obstacle extant that can stop the object in question from achieving its purpose, that is, reaching the sea or rising in the sky.

Further, it is said that a person with willpower deserves to get what they want. Only fools talk about luck. Those who strive forward with a single purpose in mind, and whose only concern is reaching their goal, are the ones who are truly fortunate, as even death cannot stop them from achieving their dreams.

Themes in the poem ‘Will’

The Central theme


The main theme of the poem ‘Will’ by Wilcox is willpower. Throughout the poem, the speaker reiterates that willpower is above all other factors, such as luck, fate, talent, etc. when it comes to deciding the course of an individual’s life. A person who has willpower outraces everybody else in getting what they want.

Although the whole poem rests on this theme, the main phrases in the poem that justify it are the firm resolve of a determined soul, will alone is great, and waits an hour sometimes for such a will, among many others.

Other themes

Resolve and Determination

The first theme in the poem ‘Will’ by Wilcox is resolve and determination. In life, along with having willpower, we must also be resolute and determined to realize our goals. The phrase the firm resolve of a determined soul, among few others, justifies this theme.

The futility of luck and fate

The second theme in the poem is the speaker’s rejection of luck and fate as determining factors of a person’s output in life. Luck and fate are nothing but excuses, as the real game of life lies in persevering towards our aims with unwavering determination. This is stated clearly in the phrases let the fool prate of luck, and no chance, no destiny, no fate.

Meaning and purpose of life

The last theme in the poem is the meaning and purpose of life. The speaker, although indirectly, is trying to say that it is required for all individuals to make something out of their lives through willpower and determination. We must boldly face all our obstacles and strive to win what we think we deserve. Our purpose and actions must always be directed towards the one great goal which we seek.

In the poem, the phrase the one great aim brings this theme into the picture.

Line-by-line interpretation of the poem ‘Will’

There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, 
Can circumvent or hinder or control 
The firm resolve of a determined soul.

In the poem ‘Will’ by Wilcox, the speaker opens by stating that resolve and determination triumph over everything else in a person’s life. There is no form of chance, destiny or fate existing that can, in any way, supersede the role of willpower in determining what becomes of an individual.

A determined person shall have such an unwavering will that, they are totally unaffected by other factors or qualities that are otherwise known to control the life of an individual.

Gifts count for nothing; will alone is great; 
All things give way before it, soon or late. 

It is further stated that the so-called gifts or inherent talents of an individual are actually futile before the power of simple will. Everything else, be it talent, intelligence, background, etc., sooner or later has a chance of failing, but willpower pushes the person through the end of all and any obstacles.

Here, all things either refer to other qualities that are weaker before will or everything that comes in life which attempts to hinder one from realizing their goals, and which eventually give way if the person is willed enough to fight for what they want.

What obstacle can stay the mighty force 
Of the sea-seeking river in its course, 
Or cause the ascending orb of day to wait?

In these lines, the speaker makes a comparison to better explain the power of willpower. A strong-willed person is just like a mighty river flowing relentlessly in pursuit of joining the sea, the ascending orb of day, or the sun, which rises in the sky notwithstanding any excuse to not do so.

The speaker questions, which obstacle in the world shall stay or restrain the river from flowing, or delay the sun in rising? Similarly, willpower surpasses all obstacles and keeps the person going forward towards their destination without ceasing.

Each will-born soul must win what it deserves. 

At this point, the speaker asserts that a person who has willpower must unfailingly win what he deserves, because the moment one has the will, they deserve or are destined to achieve whatever they want.

Let the fool prate of luck. The fortunate  Is he whose earnest purpose never swerves, 
Whose slightest action or inaction serves 

It is only the fools who prate or talk idly about how luck determines their fate; In the speaker’s view, the actual fortunate or lucky ones are those who have an earnest or focused purpose in mind that never deviates, and whose every minute move, of any nature whatsoever, is but another step towards achieving that purpose.

The one great aim. Why, even Death stands still, 
And waits an hour sometimes for such a will.

Willpower is generally used by people to reach their one ultimate goal in life, which may be anything. The speaker ends the narration by saying that, in case of the person indeed harboring such a will, even death stands still or sometimes even waits an hour, or in other words, they shall infallibly reach their goal before dying. Even death shall not stop a determined person from succeeding.

Analysis of the poem ‘Will’

‘Will’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox is a motivational poem emphasizing the significance of willpower in our lives. It has fourteen lines with no stanzas, with a rhyme scheme of ABBCCDDAEAEEFF. It is an objective narration consisting of a series of confident assertions regarding the superiority of will over all other such aspects.

The opening lines of the poem bring into the picture the nature of a determined person. The next few lines emphasize the greatness of will through comparisons. The last part of the poem returns to the concept of individuals with willpower.

The speaker here is presumably the poet herself, as there are no characters or references in the poem, but rather just a persuasive speech intended for everybody in general. The poem has a tone of power and confidence. The poet has stressed repeatedly on the power of will, and what a determined person is capable of achieving.

The title of the poem has been drawn from the central theme of the poem, that is, willpower. Note that the narration is a simple one that emphasizes a single human quality, with no particular imagery, events, characters, places, etc. whatsoever. It is just a series of dialogues with no specific reference.

The poet has used singular third-person narration in the form of he, once in the poem. It refers to an example of an ideal person that the poet has taken to picture strong-willed individuals. Also, the phrases determined soul and will-born soul serve as synecdoches representing people with willpower, and similarly, fool represents the converse. These are not any particular characters, but only symbols.

Clearly, the poet’s intention here is to give a message to the readers about having the will to persevere in life amidst obstacles. By observing the phrases like win what it deserves and the one great aim, it is safe to conclude that the speaker is particularly talking about the will for material achievement.

The opening lines of the poem make it clear that, rather than talking about the general merits of will, the speaker is more inclined towards enunciating the superiority of will over all other qualities like chance, destiny, and fate. This assumption is justified once again further in the poem, by the phrases luck and gifts, or even more so by will alone is great.

The comparisons of river and sun could have two interpretations. Are they intended for a person with willpower or the quality of will itself? While both arguments are plausible, the former seems more likely as it is the person who actually perseveres like a river or sun in doing what he must, and his will remains as only a guiding factor.

In order to draw the reader’s attention to the significance of the sun’s and river’s will, the poet has used a literary device within another literary device. While both the comparisons are clearly metaphors, we can also see alliteration (sea-seeking) and another metaphor (ascending orb of day) within the lines themselves.

We talk about the sun rising because of the phrase ascending in day. Also, in the phrase slightest action or inaction, note that the speaker states that even a firm-willed person’s inactivity has some purpose, which is a hint to the fact that sometimes, will is also about withholding from doing a particular action. Will is not only for crossing one’s bounds but also for refraining from over-crossing.

As if to finally justify all the claims made so far, the speaker brings the reference to death at the end of the poem. This is clearly the poet’s attempt to conclude the narration by saying that, willpower transgresses even the boundaries of death. Figuratively speaking, a firm will make a person immortal.

The necessity of willpower and determination is not limited to achieving particular material goals. It is an inevitable quality one must have for going through common, everyday life as well. We need will even to do the simplest of tasks.

While the poet here has clearly stressed on will for long-term goals, we can draw another message that, when faced with any common challenge in our daily lives, will help us face it where all other resources like luck, money, skill, etc. should fail.

Poetic Devices

The literary devices used in the poem ‘Will’ are enjambment, synecdoche, metaphor, personification, and alliteration.


Throughout the poem, there are cases where continuous lines are in fact broken parts of the same single sentence. For instance, 1) There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, 
    Can circumvent or hinder or control 
    The firm resolve of a determined soul
2) What obstacle can stay the mighty force 
    Of the sea-seeking river in its course, 
Or cause the ascending orb of day to wait?


1) Determined soul – Here, the soul is actually representing a determined person. 2) Will-born soul – Here, again, the soul represents a person who has willpower.


1) Mighty force of the sea-seeking river in its course – Here, a person with willpower is compared to a mighty river flowing in pursuit of joining the sea. 2) Cause the ascending orb of day to wait – Here, again, a person with willpower is compared to the ascending orb of day which rises in the sky every day without fail. 3) Ascending orb of day – Here, the sun is phrased as the ascending orb of day.


Death stands still, and waits an hour sometimes for such a will – Here, death is personified as a living entity that stands and waits for the person who has the willpower to achieve their goal in life.


1) No chance, no destiny, no fate – The word no is repeated here. 2) Circumvent or hinder or control – The word or is repeated here. 3) Sea-seeking river – Here, the syllable S is repeated continuously. 4) slightest action or inaction – Here, the word action is repeated continuously. 5) Stands still – Here, the syllable S is repeated continuously.