Friday, June 29, 2007

A Little Poetry for You: America

It's Poetry Friday (round-up is at Shaken and Stirred), and just a few days till July 4. Perhaps I'm being a little traditional, or even predictable, by offering the words of these poets in honor of the holiday.

First, a brief remark from Cummings:
e.e. cummings
America makes prodigious mistakes, America has colossal faults, but one thing cannot be denied: America is always on the move. She may be going to Hell, of course, but at least she isn’t standing still.
And now, a few poems.

I Hear America Singing
by Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,

The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day--at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

The Gift Outright
by Robert Frost

The land was ours before we were the land’s
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she will become.
I find it interesting that Frost's "Gift Outright" is always talked about as the poem Frost recited at Kennedy's inauguration, but few people realize the poem was actually written in 1942. I think putting this poem in the context of World War II makes it different somehow. The poem seems to me to be less about Manifest Destiny and westward expansion, and more a sentiment that Americans didn't become Americans until they were willing to sacrifice themselves completely, willing to die for just a vague promise of a vague American future. Again, in the context of 1942, this reads a bit differently than it would have in 1961.
Happy 4th of July all!


Lady S said...

Somewhere I read someone comment that the Bald Eagle needs a new PR firm. The announcement that they have been taken off the endangered species list should have come on the 4th of July.

Also, I gave you an award, stop by and find out why.

jules said...

Those are great, and I'd never seen that Cummings before, though I'm a fan. Thanks!