Shall It Be Sustained?

For the 4th of July of 2014,  Cassandra had 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.


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?

6 thoughts on “Shall It Be Sustained?”

  1. How lovely to see somebody else link to Cass. That paragraph from “A love letter to America” has been featured in my July 4th post as long as I’ve been blogging. Your Benet excerpt may well join it.


  2. I had not thought (or remembered) Benet’s poem since high school. Wow – and there are many posts out there today recalling other things pertaining to Independence Day that I had not thought about since high school.

    Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,

    the veterans and the Legion Post…

    and – We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained.

    Thanks for such a great post and bringing back memories that had not crossed my mind in years.

    A safe and happy 4th to you and your readers.

  3. In the heartland, it will be.
    The Daughter Unit and I had a booth at the Spring Branch festival last night – for some reason, the local C of C and everyone decided to do their 4th on the 3rd – a live band, food trucks, a whole kid-zone with inflatibles and games, and fireworks to finish it off. And a dunk tank, where some of the local prominent people – sheriff deputy, local county commissioner, etc, were all good sports about being in the dunk tank. (Good thing, because tonight a number of storms are blowing in, locally.) Lots of people in a happy mood, wearing patriotic clothing, lots, and lots of children and teenagers.
    It helps to get out from behind the keyboard now and again. Mingle with real people, in real communities.
    And as Sarah Hoyt keeps saying – despair is a sin.

  4. “How lovely to see somebody else link to Cass.”

    I was going to link to the John Kass column today but the Tribune tells me, on the 4th of the month, that I have “used up” my free articles this month. This is the first I have tried to access any article so I guess my limit is zero.

    Anyway, I recommend it if you can find it. There is no way the Trib will put their only conservative columnist on the front page.

    I subscribed for a while but the number of shootings got me down.

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