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  • Shall It Be Sustained?

    Posted by David Foster on July 4th, 2014 (All posts by )

    For this Fourth of July,  Cassandra has an excellent post: Independence in an Age of Cynicism.  I recommend the entire post and all the links; read especially the third linked essay, which Cass wrote in 2008:  Why I Am Patriotic: a Love Letter to America.

    For the last several years, on July 4th I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People.  The title I’ve used for these posts prior to 2013 was It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.

    Narrator:

    This is Independence Day,
    Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
    Whatever happens and whatever falls
    Out of a sky grown strange;
    This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
    The day of the parade,
    Slambanging down the street.
    Listen to the parade!
    There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
    Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
    The Fire Department and the local Grange,
    There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
    Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
    The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
    Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
    There are the veterans and the Legion Post
    (Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
    The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
    Good-humored, watching, hot,
    Silent a second as the flag goes by,
    Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
    Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
    Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
    The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
    The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
    All of them there and all of them a nation.
    And, afterwards,
    There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
    By somebody the Honorable Who,
    The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
    And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
    Will read the declaration.
    That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
    That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
    That’s our fourth of July.

    And a lean farmer on a stony farm
    Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
    And walked ten miles to town.
    Musket in hand.
    He didn’t know the sky was falling down
    And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
    But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
    By kings or any such.
    A workman in the city dropped his tools.
    An ordinary, small-town kind of man
    Found himself standing in the April sun,
    One of a ragged line
    Against the skilled professionals of war,
    The matchless infantry who could not fail,
    Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
    Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
    But first, and principally, since he was sore.
    They could do things in quite a lot of places.
    They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.

    He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

    The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.

    Benet’s poem ends with these words:

    We made it and we make it and it’s ours
    We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained

    But shall it?

     

    3 Responses to “Shall It Be Sustained?”

    1. David Foster Says:

      Stuart Schneiderman analyzes the definition of the word “free.”

    2. Lexington Green Says:

      Yes, it shall.

    3. T. Greer Says:

      The quality of popular magazines has decreased over the last seventy years.