I fear that the poems in my ongoing "Life Explained" series are a bit on the gloomy side. Fortunately, there is another group of short and to-the-point poems out there: poems on How To Live. But do not be alarmed! We are not about to embark upon some sort of Panglossian self-help program.
However, over the centuries, poets have seen fit to offer us advice on how best to negotiate the perils that await us. This advice is worth considering, especially in light of the oftentimes harrowing prospects offered up by our "Life Explained" poets. Let's begin with C. P. Cavafy (1863-1933):
Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they are rich, and when they are poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.
And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that in the end Ephialtis will make his appearance,
that the Medes will break through after all.
C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems (translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard) (Princeton University Press 1992).
Ephialtis (an alternate spelling is "Ephialtes") was the Greek traitor who showed the Persians (i.e., "the Medes") a path through the mountains that led to the rear of the Greek position at Thermopylae. Herodotus writes:
Now, as the [Persian] King was in a great strait, and knew not how he should deal with the emergency, Ephialtes, the son of Eurydemus, a man of Malis, came to him and was admitted to a conference. Stirred by the hope of receiving a rich reward at the King's hands, he had come to tell him of the pathway which led across the mountain to Thermopylae; by which disclosure he brought destruction on the band of Greeks who had there withstood the barbarians. This Ephialtes afterwards, from fear of the Lacedaemonians, fled into Thessaly; and during his exile, in an assembly of the Amphictyons held at Pylae, a price was set upon his head by the Pylagorae.
Herodotus, The Histories, Book VII, Chapter 213 (translated by George Rawlinson) (1862).