Strike While the Iron is Hot

Meanings of “Strike While the Iron is Hot”

The proverb “strike while the iron is hot” means one should grab the opportunity as soon as it arises. It also means that one should take advantage of an opportunity before it slips away.

Origin of “Strike While the Iron is Hot”

The proverb “strike while the iron is hot” inspires an image of a blacksmith at his workshop. He needs to shape the iron while it is hot, and if he delays, the metal cools down and he loses the opportunity. The proverb originated from The Excellent Comedie of Two the Moste Faithfullest Freendes, by Richard Edwards, where it is stated as, “I haue plied the Haruest, and stroke when the Yron was hotte.”

Since then, it has been used in the same sense except for spellings which have standardized with time.

Examples from Literature

Example #1

The Tale of Melibeus by Geoffrey Chaucer

“Up stirten thanne the yonge folk atones, and the mooste partie of that compaignye han scorned this olde wise
man, and bigonnen to make noyse, and seyden that
right so as whil that iren is hoot men sholden smyte,
right so men sholde wreken hir wronges whil that they been fresshe and newe;
and with loud voys they criden “Werre! Werre!”

The above lines from Canterbury Tales explain the proverb’s true meanings, strike while the iron is hot. The tale centers on a tragic incident that Melibee’s family faces when he is away. Unfortunately, three enemies break into the house, attack his daughter, and beat his wife. The tale then centers on Melibee and his wife’s discussion on what action should be taken to take revenge from the enemy. While sharing their thoughts, the two used many quotes from the Bible and learned authorities. They make a point that men should avenge their wrongs while they are fresh and new.

Example #2

Letter of the famous statesman Benjamin Franklin to Reverend Richard

“The facility with which the same truths may be repeatedly enforced by placing them daily in different lights in newspapers which are everywhere read, gives a great chance of establishing them. And we now find, that it is not only right to strike while the iron is hot, but that it may be very practicable to heat it by continually striking.”

The earliest full match known to QI appeared in a 1782 letter from the famous statesman Benjamin Franklin to Reverend Richard Price about using the press to spread ideas. The letter was included in “Memoirs of the Life of The Rev. Richard Price” published in 1815: 2

This excerpt shows the literal meaning of the proverb, strike while the iron is hot. It states that if someone wants to establish any truth, it should be repeatedly enforced through print media as ideas can be spread worldwide by using the press. As the pen is mightier than the sword, the speaker urges everyone to take the opportunity at the right time and try his luck until the end. The proverb has been used in its literal meanings without showing any other nuance.

Example #3

Strike While The Iron Is Hot by Kinyua Karanja

“Sometimes I think of it and regrets
Failing to hit the iron when it was hot
And now how I miss such opportunities
But, it was a lesson, I learnt a lot
Not to just judge the book by cover
Or water pool by it’s surface view
I will be careful and take step farther
And if it’s right to make it a stew
Bird always fly with what it has eaten
And leaves everything else on the ground.”

This stanza has the same title as the proverb. It beautifully explains the proverb saying that a bad day turns out to be good for the poet just because of the presence of neighbor’s little girl who wants to share his company. The girl wants him to talk about love, but he hesitates to show his love. Thus, the girl goes away, never to come back. Unfortunately, he stays empty-handed because he misses the opportunity, and now he cannot turn the constantly spinning wheel of time backward. So, it shows the symbolic use of this proverb.

Example #4

Strike While the Iron is Hot by A.J. Waterhouse

Strike while the iron is heated!
Strike while your arm is strong!
For the man who is most defeated
Is the man who waits too long.
There is truth in the good old saying
By many of us forgot,
If you would avoid dismaying
Strike while the iron is hot!
The iron is heated and ready,
And now is the time for blows;
So mighty your arm, and steady,
And know where the hammer goes!
We build for the brighter of dimmer,
For lofty or lowlier lot,
As we heed how the white sparks glimmer,
And strike while the iron is hot.

This poem explains the meanings of the proverb in a straightforwards manner . The speaker talks about the importance of taking advantage of an opportunity before the situation changes. He argues that when the iron is heated and ready, it becomes easy to make the most of it. In other words, if we take action immediately rather than waiting for too long, there are more chances of success in our hands. So , it seems that the meanings are metaphorical.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “I wonder why John doesn’t make laudable offers – I’d strike while the iron is hot if I were him.”

Example #2: “Mr. Kennedy, the senior employee of our company, asked questions about the new launching project, thus trying to strike while the iron is hot.”

Example #3: “The bench nominated Jenny for a new project. The secret behind that was that she always strikes while the iron is hot.”

Example #4: “We should strike while the iron is hot and grab the provided items immediately before they alter the provided list.”

Example #5: “Kate had only one motto in life; “Strike While the Iron is Hot,” that was the only way she always achieved what she intended to.