What do you see? “The Guy in the Glass” is a poem written in 1934 by American writer Peter “Dale” Wimbrow (1895-1954); it was first published in The American Magazine in May that same year. Wimbrow submitted the poem in response to the magazine’s request for its readers to send answers to an 18-year-old man’s question. His question was “Why should an ambitious young man be honest?”
Many versions alter the word “pelf” ‘ in the first line of Wimbrow’s poem to “self,” believing the word “pelf” to be a misprint. Pelf in fact means money or wealth, usually ill-gotten, derived from Old French “pelfe” and “pelfre,” meaning reward gained from plunder or contest or achievements, probably related to the same roots as the word “pilfer.”
The Guy in the Glass
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.
For it isn’t your Father or Mother or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.
He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.
You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.