Occasional Poems for Independence Day

Free-wheeling behavior. What I want / when I want / how I want. Places to see, people to do, things to go. [Yes, I know that’s not quite the phrase ;)]

Do those comments describe independence?

Not quite.

Let’s try “Self Reliance”, an early idea on what a democratic republic nation should be–the ideals of ancient Greece, the best governance of ancient Rome. A pride in viewing everyone the same because we are the same. A willingness to stand up and be counted when it matters.

How about now? Are we describing independence?

Closer.

Independence Day

On the 4th of July America celebrates its beginnings and all the best that this country comes together to be. Yes, we have problems. Who doesn’t? We’re working on them. (Are you working on yours? Good. Haven’t got any? Think again.)

Writing for Independence Day
  1. Find the reason/purpose for writing.
  2. Identify the audience.
  3. Select the images to use. Seven?
  4. Subtract anything too maudlin. Strong memories defeat smarmy emotion.
  5. Determine the focus idea to convey.
  6. Use repetition and alliteration. Audiences listen for key words. Their minds chain the keys together to build sense.
  7. Figurative language works in performance only when it controls the entire text. Extended metaphors will carry more power than simple similes.
  8. Subtract anything too maudlin. Yes, again.
  9. Manipulate the line structure.
  10. Practice before performance.

To celebrate the USA’s Independence, I’ve gathered several poems that meet the requirements of the occasion. A wide-range of poetry, and the last one not even considered a poem by the majority. In looking at these poems, we can see directions for our own attempts to celebrate any patriotic occasion.

All the poems use tight construction through repetition, the time-honored rhetorical device when constructing any writing for performance.

Our first poems are the total spirit of what enables the independent spirit.

Walt Whitman:  Equality, Fraternity, Liberty

Whitman is one of the two great American poets who can be identified by the appearance of their poetic lines alone. Emily Dickinson is the other. Like the USofA, Whitman sprawls across the continent, celebrating all of us. Dickinson writes compact poems with introspective individuality.

Perhaps the most well-known of Whitman’s poems is his “I Hear America Singing”. Free verse with his signature catalog of details, it rejoices in the plain people who began turning America into the powerhouse of industry that it became in the 20th Century.

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.

Whitman’s Writing

How did Walt Whitman craft this poem? The method he used is called the catalog. He lists the series of workers and what they are doing. These are common people in common jobs, each one vibrant, each one essential for everyone to progress (a lesson we all learned about essential work during the pandemic).

Men and women. Old and young. Owner and worker. Tough work and fine work. Hard work and working at play. Morning, noon, night.

“The day what belongs to the day–at night the party”.

His first two lines present his purpose. He balances every other detail, either by twos or threes (the line about women presents three ages).

Whitman isn’t concerned with the length of the line. The stringencies of the computer screen alter the actual line lengths: the lines for the boatman and woodcutter and the women should stretch to their entire length rather than drop down.

Whitman gives us pure egalitarianism.

The everyday person, working hard to enjoy the harvest of his own hands—this is the person that 4th of July speeches should praise. Picnicking, jumping whole-heartedly into games, glorying in the fireworks—this is the poem to celebrate Independence Day.

Waldo Emerson: Pillars of Independence on the Colossus of the People

I am not a fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Concord Hymn”, the usual read for Independence Day with its famous “shot heard round the world”, leaves me cold. His “A Nation’s Strength” stirs the feelings of pride in our country.

A Nation’s Strength

What makes a nation’s pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly…
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

Emerson’s Writing

Emerson writes a simple meter and a simple rhyme scheme (abab). His structure is a simple question and answer format: Is it this? Is it that? No, it is not what you expect. “Sinking sand” and “abiding rock” are allusions to the Bible.

The “red dust” of empires offers another allusion >> “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” with the ashes picked up in the next stanza. Money, war, and pride cannot keep a nation strong.

What then? Only a nation’s people. Only those who stand for truth and honor. Only the brave who battle while others sleep.

Coming Up

While others applaud the nation or its elected leaders or its industry leaders, Whitman and Emerson both remind us that nations are nothing without their people standing strong.

These are our first two volleys in the four-post celebration of occasional poems on Independence. Return on July 5th for the next offerings.