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  • Shall It Be Sustained?

    Posted by David Foster on July 4th, 2020 (All posts by )

    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?

    The probability that the American experiment will survive seems lower now than in any prior year in living memory.  We still have a good fighting chance, but the outcome is by no means assured.

    I keep thinking of the words of the British general Edward Spears, describing his feelings in the aftermath of Munich:

    Like most people, I have had my private sorrows, but there is no loss that can compare with the agony of losing one’s country, and that is what some of us felt when England accepted Munich.  All we believed in seemed to have lost substance.

    The life of each of us has roots without which it must wither; these derive sustenance from the soil of our native land, its thoughts, its way of life, its magnificent history; the lineage of the British race is our inspiration.  The past tells us what the future should be.  When we threw the Czechs to the Nazi wolves, it seemed to me as if the beacon lit centuries ago, and ever since lighting our way, had suddenly gone out, and I could not see ahead.

    Yet it was only two years after Munich that Britain demonstrated its  magnificent resistance to Nazi conquest. Perhaps the United States of America will similarly rediscover its spirit.

     

     

    7 Responses to “Shall It Be Sustained?”

    1. David Foster Says:

      A couple of relevant links:

      Wolf Howling, at Bookworm, has a detailed annotation of the Declaration of Independence

      TxRed, at the Cat Rotator’s Quarterly, connects the Declaration with the Scottish Enlightenment

    2. BobtheRegisterredFool Says:

      I beg to move,

      That this House welcomes the formation of a Government representing the united and inflexible resolve of the nation to prosecute the war with Germany to a victorious conclusion.
      -Winston Churchill

      In the name of heaven, Catilina, how long do you propose to exploit our patience? Do you really suppose that your lunatic activities are going to escape our retaliation for evermore? Are there to be no limits to this audacious, uncontrollable swaggering?
      -Cicero

      Obviously, we have better answers at hand than Cicero’s proscriptions. At this moment, I feel that November may see America more united in Churchill’s sense than not.

    3. David Foster Says:

      Sarah Hoyt, feeling relatively optimistic:

      https://pjmedia.com/columns/sarah-hoyt/2020/07/04/fly-the-flag-proudly-the-left-is-not-winning-this-fourth-of-july-n604084

    4. Mike K Says:

      He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

      [This is a generic complaint against the King for retaining power to veto duly passed local laws and likely a specific complaint about the King’s repeated veto of laws passed by Pennsylvania to restrict the slave trade in that colony. ]

      I wonder if any of the ahistorical rioters and agitators know anything of this ?

      Just like lefties know nothing of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, in which slavery was banned north of the Ohio river.

      The prohibition of slavery in the territory had the practical effect of establishing the Ohio River as the geographic divide between slave states and free states from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River (an extension of the Mason–Dixon line). It also helped set the stage for later political conflicts over slavery at the federal level in the 19th century until the Civil War.

      They just don’t know and the authors of the “1619 project ” are equally ignorant.

    5. MCS Says:

      Always appropriate, music by Copeland, lyrics by Abraham Lincoln:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iu-AKF4PEeQ

      Especially now.

    6. Subotai Bahadur Says:

      A quote from James Otis in the book “Johnny Tremain”:

      “We give all we have, lives, property, safety, skills . . . we fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up.”

      Our turn is coming.

      Subotai Bahadur

    7. BobtheRegisterredFool Says:

      They just don’t know and the authors of the “1619 project ” are equally ignorant.

      Work has recently shown that Zinn was malicious, not ignorant and incompetent.

      I would not be surprised to find out that 1619 was malice, but falsehood is easier to prove than lying.