On Firing a Salesman by James Autry

It’s like a little murder,
taking his life,
his reason for getting on the train,
his lunches at Christ Cella,
and his meetings in warm and sunny places
where they all gather, these smiling men,
in sherbet slacks and blue blazers,
and talk about business
but never about prices,
never breaking the law
about the prices they charge.

But what about the prices they pay?
What about gray evenings in the bar car
and smoke-filled clothes and hair
and children already asleep
and wives who say “You stink”
when they come to bed?
What about the promotions they don’t get,
the good accounts they lose
to some kid MBA
because somebody thinks their energy is gone?

What about those times they see in a mirror
or the corner of their eye
some guy at the club shake his head
when they walk through the locker room
the way they shook their heads years ago
at an old duffer
whose handicap had grown along with his age?

And what about this morning,
the summons,
the closed door,
and somebody shaved and barbered and shined
fifteen years their junior
trying to put on a sad face
and saying he understands?

A murder with no funeral,
nothing but those quick steps outside the door,
those set jaws,
those confident smiles,
that young disregard for even the thought
of a salesman’s mortality.

80 responses to “On Firing a Salesman by James Autry

  1. This work really just shows the natural progression of life in the workplace. Every career, just like every life, has a beginning and an end. As the salesman is being fired, as the end of his career life approaches, he is replaced by the beginning of a new man’s career.

  2. There are many people who are scared of losing their job. With my experience, these people are obsessed with every little detail and are too scared to make a mistake. This poem describes what happens when someone fresh out of college replaces an older person in a job.

  3. Wow this poem really relates to Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” which both describe the life of a salesman. the first line of this poem can say that being a salesman is under a lot of pressure and will eventually be replaced.

  4. Its unfortunate that people will work so hard for someone but as soon as they grow old and aren’t as quick they can just be let go with no consideration of all the hard work they’ve put for years. This poem, although sad, can also be used as motivation for college students. The way I see it is that we need to keep working hard and finish school to be able to give ourselves a better future. Even though it might be difficult to get our foot in the door fresh out of college, it’ll be worth it having a degree we can use to better our careers.

  5. This is the cycle of life in the employment world. Education is key to future of success. Time and time again people say that and it is true. t just goes to show that no job really is permanent. Salesmen get a bad rep but honestly it is a very tough job and there is a lot of competition. It takes skill to be a salesperson and a bit of a charm. I’ve heard that a salesmen has 30 seconds to intrigue/bait his customer and if the salesperson misses the hook in the first thirty seconds then they lose and have to go to the next person. That’s pretty intimidating and tough.

  6. Just about everyone has said about this poem, it is indeed a depressing yet truthful fact about a businesses. From what i can see about this poem, it seems that people are expendable. They can be replaced just like that. that’s truly saddening because that is people’s lives somebody is ruining. It does not matter what kind of situation that individual was in, in the end, its all about the money.

  7. it is a sad poem about the modern business man and the life they live. the hard work they endure and how easily they are disposed of. my best friend is a salesman and its a strenuous job that is only cut out for some to be successful in. its a great piece looking into the life of a salesman

  8. I do have to praise James Autry for illustrating modern business. Especially in the recent recession that had many people out of jobs. A job should not be associated with labor cost vs profits, but as the livelihood of a teammate who has helped your company grow and expand. I regard the workplace as a team of individuals who all matter and they make up the company. Not the profits.

  9. This poem talks about working hard metaphorcally but also people that work hard can relate because we work so hard for something we want to achieve like finishing college and getting a good career.

  10. This poem is about a working man that is being killed metaphorically by their hard work. However the sacrifices that they make in order to succeed have been neglected by their “higher ups” because they want younger and more active employees.

  11. It is true that a company only cares about the money their employees are making and if they believe that the salesman isn’t producing enough money then they replace the salesman. Maybe this is not correct because they are disregarding the hard work of the salesman, but nowadays, sadly, it is all about money.

  12. This poem talks about the difficulty of living in somewhere that employment is hard to keep. There are a lot of people that has worked so long and so hard and they just get laid off or fired because they want a younger or something new for their business. No one knows what to do when this happens because all your energy is providing for your family and you have no control over what will happen next.

  13. This poem can speak a lot about society. Companies only care about the money that is involved. Rarely do they actually care about their employees and those around. They are out to make a profit and that’s about it. People normally see salesman as annoying or greedy but, honestly, no one sees their side.

  14. A fireman puts his life on the line just to be replaced? Goes to show you no matter how great you are in this world you can always be replaced.

  15. clear message, but nowadays companies do not care about what the salesman does maybe just how great or bad they are because they bring the company money but other than that companies can care less about salesmen.

  16. Business world is full of competitions especially in sales, where performance is measured by the numbers in dollar signs. Respect in this kind of job is not necessarily earned by the number of years in service, but rather by how much profit one brings to the company and its share holders. I happened to learn that the U.S. law is against any form of age descrimination when it comes to job candidate screening, which is not enforced in where I was from(Taiwan). I am not sure if the same law also protects the ones who are still on the job from being laid off because of his or her age?

  17. This poem is very relatable, companies could care less about you or who you are. Its all about the money, and advertising to attract more customers. Some managers for example won’t acknowledge your availability, they just expect for you to come in when you are told to. Its all about the money, not employee benefit or quality work environment.

  18. The poem is very relatable, no one really cares about you when comes down to working, its more about how much you can make for the company. Some managers for example mine, wont work with availability schedules its either you come in or not. Many company’s don’t really show care for their employees, benefit wise. They just care about money.

  19. This poem was clear as sunshine. It was worded perfectly not to difficult but not too easy so you still had to think about the overall message of the poem. It is sad that a salesman can lose everything from his job to his family, who complains about his hygiene because of his job. At the end of the day no one cares about what the salesman did in the past or how much business he bought to the company. All they care about is more money.

  20. I agree with many of my classmates on the fact that companies only care about profit and don’t really care about the lives of there employees, or the consumer! We see it everyday husbands, mothers, sons all providing for someone , left jobless and with no other way to support themselves. I wouldn’t consider myself a salesmen, but I do work in sales. I’ve been working for Stater brothers for 4 years. Luckily I am part of a union so my job is a bit more secure ,and is almost the opposite of this poem. At my job the older people who have more years at the company get much higher pay and better benefits, even though I may think I work a lot harder than them. I choose to stay because eat the end of the day I still have bills to pay and my own mouth to feed.

  21. This poem gave a very good visual
    I appreciated that it wasn’t hard to understand
    I never thought about what a fireman might go through
    risking his life everyday, truly a hero
    only to be replaced in the end
    but isn’t that how life goes?

  22. It just goes to show you that not all business are ruthless in nature. Some of them actually care about the other people they work with and it’s not all about the money. Since I am majoring in business, it is nice to see that not all of the business men are as ruthless as they seem.

  23. This poem opens your eyes when it comes to how businesses are run in this country. It really brings out the survival of the fittest theme in a very direct way. My favorite line is “A funeral with no murder,” sames up everything.

  24. This poem brings to mind how superficial and unfair this world truly is. A man who has giving his life to this job now has nothing. Nothing to fall back on, knows no other kind of work, is too old to start all over again, and still has to find a way to make a living. James Autry tries to let his audience know that they need to be prepared for anything life throws at you. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.

  25. This poem drives me to ask why people become so hurt by the loss of a job. I see it with men in particular. I wonder if its the concept that they have been rejected and looked at as not good enough? Maybe its because they are comfortable in their position and fear change? Whatever the reason, I find it intriguing that something like a career can have such a large emotional impact on a human. In my mind it seems like you can just go somewhere else and get a new job; granted I know it’s easier said than done, but nonetheless, it is something that is replaceable.

    • “…why people become so hurt by the loss of a job.” & “just go somewhere else and get a new job”. These comments make me recall Marie Antoinette’s alleged quotes, “if the people don’t have bread, let them eat cake”. These comments are at the very least misinformed due to lack of experience of the current US job market or in the extreme, callous and dismissive. Did we read the same poem? The poem clearly states how the senior salesman is being fired due to factors concerning his age. It seems to be a tip of an iceberg of a larger problem in our society, that of not appreciating our elders or valuing their life long experiences. A clear example is discrimination lawsuits. Lawyers are quick to take discrimantion cases that concern race, gender or sexual orientation but age based cases are few and far between. In a consumer society where the rate of discarding old and acquiring the new is increasing, how far before a 30 year old is considered “non essential”?

  26. When I read this poem I felt a sence of irony. Here we have the new kid on the block hungry with a bachlors but eventually will he not turn into the old man. Will he not face the hardships illustrated by the old man in the poem? Where he will work long days, have a family and career and when he reaches an older age is replaced in turn by a younger worker.
    I believe the true beauty in this poem is that as a reader you can relate to either the old businessman or the young child but the major irony is are they not the same person in a sad cycle.

    • Yes Jocob, I truly agree with you. I also can relate to both sides. I worked for Sears awhile back, and it was always in the back of my mind if the new revamp of the store included getting rid of all the senior cahiers.. Your comment really made me think of that job. And the thing about Sears, that was the best job I had in my life. I worked at Sears in Santa Monica overlooking that wonderful beach. Maria Jones English 1B

  27. I myself was never a salesperson, but had worked in the food service industry. I definitely understand that daily life. Though I have never been fired, we can definitely understand the reality of it through this poem.

  28. As a young woman that has worked at Sears, I know about the Salesman. I had only worked for Sears for 1.2 years, but the company only wanted the fresh faced to be in the front. They were always nice, but the bottom line was, your job was not secure, don’t stay to long. Someone with a degree who knew nothing about the retail business would take your spot and get paid for it. Yes, working hard not advancing will get you all of nothing. So depressing this poems is, one should make sure they get their education so that they wont have to work hard to give their job to someone else. Who is young and educated.

  29. In with the new and out with old. However, I also feel that the author James Autry sympathizes for the employee’s who have devoted their whole life to their career. After doing research on James A. Autry. I discovered that he had a very successful career ranging from the president of Magazine Group, president of the Epilepsy Foundation of America, president of the Institute for the Advancement of Health and much more. Once learning this, it became clear that in many times in life he may have had to fire employees. Thus, coming to a conclusion that he cared for all of his employees and knew the pain it would cause the employee.

  30. This poem to me yells out sacrifice. We often get so involved in making money and providing for others , but yet we lack the value of spending quality time with our loved ones. To have sacrificed so much and then get slapped in the face after devoting your whole life into your job just seems cruel to me.This is reality in the work force though.

  31. This is really an interesting piece. I get the sense that even though James Autry is an executive of a highly successful company, he still cares for the little man. He has felt pain from firing employees and knows the pain that is going to occur for the employee.

  32. This poem is quite depressing. It shows what a salesman gives up when he works. By the time the salesman gets home his kids are already asleep, dinner is over, and he is too tired/stinky to be with his wife. The story gets even more depressing. When the salesman gets older and his ability to make money is hindered, he is fired just like that. He is pretty much fired without any regard for the “cost” it will have on him.

  33. With new generations comes new advancements. This poem represents the countless positions filled by fresh, newly educated workers. With these new skills, techniques, and attitudes in place, employers will easily substitute these new workers in order to benefit their business. What makes this poem sad is that the real stories are told. There are real stories about real people who lose their job and it affects their whole life. It’s a sad death.

  34. I can relate to this poem because I use to work in a call center representing Kohl’s. Since it was my first job, my life had many different transitions that I personally did not expect. My life turned from a high social-fun life into a monotonous life. Just like the salesman I had to wake up and deal with the same cheap customers and careless co-workers that never really appreciated me. In this poem the salesman is probably tired because he is getting old and people are telling him too. However, the only thing that keeps him going is that fact that he needs the money to provide to his family. Thinking that I might get older and working somewhere I do not really want to work is scary. As kids we all wanted different goals but never thought that the might just be depressing.

  35. The poem Firing A Salesman is actually really depressing to me. It talks about the life of a salesman who wakes up everyday just to deal with people who basically don’t appreciate him. His wife says he stinks and people think he’s getting to old but the only reason he goes out of his way is to provide and survive. The poem is about sacrifice and i think it’s something we all deal with eventually.

  36. This poem represents the life a working man goes through , a man provides for his family sacrificing them and sacrificing himself . I can relate to this poem because there was times when my dad would come very late from work and I was already sleeping . Working men don’t have the time to spend it with their children ,their wives feel neglected and abandoned . The sad part is that many working men get fired out of the blue , and all they have left is to keep their head up and think positive .

  37. This is definitely not a guy i would expect to write poetry, but i think that’s a good thing. Because he is from the corporate world he can show these undertones of the business world that otherwise would have never found their way in to the arts. The way he writes truly dose bring life to business world, something that most of us see as a lifeless money making machine.

  38. This poem is about the hardships and the sacrifices a hard working salesman encounters. But this could speak for everyone not just salesmen. When you put all your effort and sweat into a job/career, and then are laid off or fired, well it could make you feel like a failure or put you in a state of depression. It’s true, as you get older you get looked over for someone much younger than you to do your job. This was a very realistic poem and I enjoyed it.

  39. the firing of a sale men represents the tough objectives the men have to go trough in order to provide for their families. I for one am able to relate because of the fact that my father went through the same exact thing, but because the US promotes free enterprise. My father was able to build his own business and he is able to start something from the ground up. all of us are salesman in this world trying to make it. its up to our actions to determine if we are good or not.

  40. Salesmen put such hard work into their jobs, and when their career is over, all that all effort goes unnoticed and unappreciated. We see these people in their nice attire, driving their nice cars, and they seem to be living a great, steady life; but in reality they spend their nights drinking because of stress, never seeing their family as much as they should, and eventually they get put out by a younger, more enthusiastic salesperson.

  41. I wonder how many other businessmen like writing poetry. I never thought of them as the type. The life described here seems so lame, so unfulfilling. And to think, after years of hard work, along comes this young gentleman with high energy and replaces the poor old man, without warning or understanding, taking away his job, his routine life.

  42. What is a life not worth living? His passion, his motivation, his confidence all swept away like the men before him. It is the vicious cycle of life and a death before the tombstone. As he once chastised the old men before him he has taken on the role of winding down, unappreciated and unloved. A theme of a sad cycle is evident in this poem. He may be alive but he lacks the luster of life that makes breathing rewarding.

  43. People smile at older folks and at times laugh at that without recognizing that they will one day reach an age in their lives where they get fired for being too old, while someone who is young gets hired in their place. We live in a world in which profit matters so much that we forget the damage we do to people that dedicate their entire life to their job, a job we feel we deserve to take from them at any time. Many people really enjoy their lives being thankful for the job they have and they don’t complain what they have to give up or go through to maintain their job, which doesn’t allow for employee to actually think about what it means to a salesmen to get fired.

  44. This poem by James Autry touches on a couple points that I find relevant in today’s society. For one, everyone is working to live and trying to make a comfortable life for themselves and loved ones. For some who are fortunate enough, they can say that they live to work, but for the vast majority, it seems that they just work at jobs that they don’t particularly enjoy to live. The poem also touches on the fact that some employers are favoring youthful energy over aged experience.

  45. I think James Autry does a good job at describing the hard work and sorrow of a salesman. Even though this poem is clearly about a salesman i think it also captures the emotions any worker feels when getting laid off. Its not a fun experience and in a way it does feel like a little murder.

  46. I love this poem. It is so true about the price of firing a saleman. It is kind of sad, but I think that is the way of life. If a business lossing money, they have to find a way to minimum their loss profit by laiding off or fireing employee.

  47. This poem is sad but very honest about how life is. Older employees are being replaced by younger individuals because employers see them as more energetic salesmen. My mother just recently got laid off from her job because they wanted younger employees who don’t require insurance and benefits.

  48. The evolution of the life of a salesman. They give their all to growing their clientele, rising up, up, up, until they reach the pinnacle of their career. What goes up, must come down. As the end grows near, they look back on a lifetime of missed opportunties. What to do? Where to go?

  49. This poem holds a seldom told truth. Employes are valued. Their contributions are noticed and they matter. Having grown up watching my father run a company, I have seen the joy and sorrow he felt as his employees succeeded and sometimes failed. Not all bosses are the vindictive man looking out only for himself.

  50. Great insight to a bushiness man’s inner feelings. Business is just that business, emotions should not get in the way of what is best for the cooperative as a whole. But with that said what of the individual? The socially unacceptable inner most emotions one feels? Are we to be cold as machines to be utilized for profit? Everyone feels and this is a great poem expressing just that.

  51. This poem does a great job on sharing the details of a salesman and all the sacrifices made by those who choose this profession. Sacrifices that sometimes include compromising the time spent with their families, long work hours and tiring meetings. Considering the poem focuses on the firing of a salesman, I can only imagine the disappointment and frustration of someone who is laid off simply because someone with a higher authority believes they simply don’t have what it take anymore. By far one of the most reflective poems I’ve read. Great poem!

  52. I got a better understanding and outlook of this poem after watching the video of James Autry and Quincy Troupe in class. That video which was played in class allowed me to get a better grasp of James Autry demeanor. After reading this short poem it did bring the cons of being a salesman in the readers frame of thought.

  53. I can only imagine how it would feel to have a nice job, then get fired and everything is changed. This poem makes it as though you can actually feel the pain that someone would go through with a job loss. James Autrey is a good poet.

  54. I think James Autry really puts in perspective the life of a workingman that people would otherwise see as your average life just going to and from work. Autry captures the unseen hardships that a sales man endures and the sacrifies made, and makes the emotional connection to the reader as to what they must feel when fired. Great poem.

  55. I remember listening to this poem in class, it was super boring. However, I listened to it once again and read it with my own voice out loud. From reading this poem I can see how much salesmen work. They work really hard for a living and get to experience different things from good to bad. But, as a boss they have to let some workers go which is crucial. Crucial for both the worker and boss, because both hurt towards the end.

    • I think James Autry really puts in perspective the life of a workingman that people would otherwise see as your average life just going to and from work. Autry captures the unseen hardships that a sales man endures and the sacrifies made, and makes the emotional connection to the reader as to what they must feel when fired. Great poem.

  56. Wow, this is eye opening we always focus on the big things we do. Which leaves us to leave off the little things we do. Basically we should consider everything we do and say even if it’s not as important. This peom was one of my favorite since its very descriptive.

  57. this poem i could really relate to because i have not only been fired from a job but been kicked off of a basketball team that was my job. so i really liked the poem and think it was well realated to the audience.

  58. I dont think I would ever be able to fire anyone. I dont think that I would be a good person to be manager because I would not fire anyone at least I hope not.

  59. This Poem really makes you things into perspective. so many times we focus on the getting the big promotion, earning that degree ect. that we seem to forget about all the other things we have put on hold moments that we might never gain back, like spending time with your loves ones. our society is always on the move they become almost on autopilot and we out noticeing we are slowly dieing.

  60. Personally, no one in my family were ever salesman. I have always been raised and told that salesman were the “annoying” ants that find a way in your house and leave a trail on your kitchen counter. That they have no idea what they are doing and they just follow one another, and annoy the crap out of you, because all you want them to do is leave, and all they want to do is stay and make you mad. But this poem really opened my eyes to the stuff that they go through, whether that being the employee or the employer. It is a tough field of work, and it is stressful indeed. Without salesman, most of us wouldnt know what in the heck we were doing. This was a great poem!

  61. i liked how he related firing someone to taking that person’s life. many people put everything they have into their job and when they get fired they feel like their life is over. i liked how this poem showed that firing someone can be just as hard as being fired.

  62. This poem was like a story about life as we get older. I thought this poem was interesting because in a way firing someone is like killing a part of them. Some cause their own fate but like the poem said losing your job to some kid mba is real life and happens everyday. It was also well written and I can relate to it partly from friends accounts but I have not been fired from a job yet.

  63. Certainly, most people can relate to this poem because we all were in some given time in life in a similar situation whether we were the employee or the employer it covers both fields.

  64. i enjoyed this poem because my father is a salesman and he has told me some of the stuff that he has to go through. being a salesman is very competitive and if he doesn’t sale then someone younger will come in and take my father sales and he will eventually get fired.

  65. this poem shows what its like to fire someone it is never a good feeling but it has to be done, and what this poem does inputs you in a position no one wants to belong in.

  66. This poem basically makes me never want to be a boss… However I thought it was a very moving poem and it really tugs on your heart strings. I really liked this poem.

  67. I really enjoy this poem, I think it really puts an interesting spin on firing someone. The thought that it’s like a little murder it perfectly fitting for firing someone because it’s like killing a part of their life.

  68. I did my poem essay on this poem and I can somehow relate to it because my dad is a salesman and he tells us what it’s like and it’s just like this poem. This poem is very meaningful.

  69. This poem really specks to me because deserves to feel like this. I have personally felt this and I moved on and now working at a much better job. Its short but expresses everything just prefect how everything has to be.

  70. I really enjoyed this poem. Not because of the situation because it is a situation that no one wants to be in but because of the words Autry used and both sides of a Salesman. While the life of a salesman can be nice, there are many downsides in which Autry brings to the light in this poem.

  71. I don’t know what it feels like to be fired because every job I have had, I have excelled in or been promoted. But I do know what it feels like because my brother got fired from Macy’s and he went to Robinson’s May. Then Macy’s bought out that company and they basically fired him again. Thought luck huh!!!?..

  72. I don’t know what it feels like to be fired because every job I have had, I have excelled in or been promoted. But I do know what it feels like because my brother got fired from Macy’s and he went to Robinson’s May. Then Macy’s bought out that company and they basically fired him again. Thought luck huh!!!

  73. This poem makes a person think, for myself I have been on both sides the person who fires and the one being fired….its a hard position for both parties…

  74. Poetry definitely has a human element that, to some degree, forces the person to think about the story and how it may have an impact. For me, it takes on an account of a particular moment in time and the reason for telling such poetry. James Autry took many of his poems from actual events and made them into a somewhat memoir. It is the relationship he builds with the reader who relate to this story. The one who fires an employee or the employee that gets fired. This particular scene has been a moment in some form or fashion for many us. The reality of working and knowing that this happens in the workplace, an event that can not be glorified or can be perfected. That at some point in ones life, this scene has been played out. The awkwardness of this poetry is with the author, how one can sympathize with him more so than the person he is firing. Dealing with human elements that are no so cold, but how the feelings and thoughts are displayed for the reader.

  75. I like how his poems tend to be stories. They always come full circle as does this one. The way he slowly builds up the story drew me in.

  76. It is a somber poem to me. I can relate to many of the things he speaks to in the poem. It is well written and for those it speaks to a very moving piece.

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