I wanted to share a Russian proverb in reply to a tweet that cited:

  • “Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.” George E. Woodberry

The Russian proverb “За битого - двух небитых дают” is translated in wiki as “Who has never tasted bitter, knows not what is sweet.”

I find this equivalent fails to convey the original spirit and meaning. The literal phrase is something like: "One defeated (beaten) is exchanged for (equals to) two undefeated (never beaten)"

What would be a more literal and more exact translation of this proverb in English?

  • 1
    Montrose's toast is tolerably close to the sentiment: "He either fears his fate too much, Or his desserts are small, Who dares not put it to the touch, To win or lose it all.” Apr 7, 2022 at 19:13
  • 2
    Perhaps "A thorn of experience is worth a wilderness of advice?"
    – jxh
    Apr 7, 2022 at 19:35

2 Answers 2


Maybe “We learn little from victory, much from defeat.”

Or, in-between the two meanings you provided, a quote from M. S. Forbes: “Victory is sweetest when you've known defeat.”


I don't speak Russian, so this answer is working with just the English explanations in your question.

The sense of the Woodberry quote that sparked this train of thought is that trying is worth risking failure for. This is echoed in your own translation of the Russian proverb - that one defeated person is worth two who have never been defeated, presumably because they didn't even try.

An English idiom that echoes this sentiment is Tennyson's quote:

'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

The quote lacks the war context, but since you're after a literary allusion, I trust you wouldn't mind stretching the literary link between love and war. Tennyson's quote carries the idea you're after - that even if you fail, the experience itself is worth the attempt.

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