The HyperTexts

The Best Independence Day Poems and Songs
The Best Fourth of July Poems and Songs
Poems and Songs about War, Peace and 9-11

compiled by Michael R. Burch, an editor, translator and publisher of Holocaust poetry

This page contains poems about war, peace, independence and freedom: the idea of freedom and the feeling of freedom. I have included poems by the great Masters and by contemporary poets and songwriters.―MRB

The Top Ten Independence Day Poems and Songs

"The Gift Outright" a poem read by author Robert Frost at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy
"America" by Claude McKay
"Concord Hymn" and "A Nation's Strength" by Ralph Waldo Emerson 
"Let America Be America Again" by Langston Hughes
"I Hear America Singing" and much of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, the first poet of American democracy
"Paul Revere's Ride" and "O Ship of State" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus
"This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie
"Battle Hymn of the Republic" with lyrics by Julia Ward Howe, esp. as sung by Elvis Presley in "American Trilogy"
"The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key, aka "The National Anthem"

I have read a fiery gospel
Writ in burnish'd rows of steel ...
"Battle Hymn of the Republic" with lyrics by Julia Ward Howe

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" became the anthem of Northern abolitionists and soldiers during the Civil War in their efforts to end slavery and reunite the United States. If you've never heard Elvis Presley sing "American Trilogy," which includes his exceptional gospel-infused version of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," you've missed one of the all-time great vocal performances. Presley had the remarkable ability to switch from a deep, rich baritone to a high, sweet tenor. And he could hit both low and high notes with amazing clarity and power. If you haven't heard "American Trilogy" before, please be sure to listen until the thunderbolt of that amazing final note!

Here's a poem by one of the best American poets that seems especially relevant this Independence Day, as we hear horror stories about our government denying soap, toothbrushes and blankets to immigrant children. What good is independence if we can't help children in distress? Is this "making America great again" or a betrayal of everything the American founding fathers fought for?

by Emily Dickinson

These Strangers, in a foreign World,
Protection asked of me―
Befriend them, lest Yourself in Heaven
Be found a Refugee―

Here's another poem with a similar theme and message:

Dispensing Keys
by Hafiz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The imbecile
constructs cages
for everyone he knows,
while the sage
(who has to duck his head
whenever the moon glows)
keeps dispensing keys
all night long
to the beautiful, rowdy,
prison gang.

I just love the wisdom and spirit of Hafiz in this subversive (pardon the pun) little poem. I can see Trump putting refugees in cages, while Hafiz goes around letting them out for a moondance!

Another great song for Independence Day is the soul-stirring "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke. And how about "Independence Day" by Martina McBride? Or take this old favorite ...

This land is your land
This land is my land
From California to the New York island; 
From the red wood forest to the gulf stream waters 
This land was made for you and me.
"This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie was a tenant of the Trumps when he lived in New York and he wrote angry songs about the racism of "Old Man Trump." Frederick Trump, the father of Donald Trump, was arrested at a KKK rally for the assault of a police officer. We know it was Trump's father because a New York newspaper published his Jamaica Estates address in Queens. I wonder what Woody Guthrie would say about the "independence" of a nation that is now letting the Trumps have their way with defenseless darker-skinned children?

by Robert Lavett Smith

There's nothing really left to celebrate:
Whatever freedoms we believed we had,
Submerged beneath a tidal wave of hate,
Are grace notes in a broken jeremiad.
Bring on the marching bands, celebrities,
Pop icons gathered at the Capitol:
As death tolls rise these doomed festivities
Seem less a party than a funeral.
While the United States persists in name,
Nothing remains of all those high ideals
The Founding Fathers held, and to our shame
We bare the guilt we've struggled to conceal.
Hitler would almost surely recognize
The numb complacency that dulls our eyes.

Let's hope enough Americans open their eyes to reverse our nation's backsliding course in coming elections.

Honorable Mention Independence Day Poems and Songs: "America the Beautiful" by Katharine Lee Bates, "Yankee Doodle," "Dixie", "God Bless America" by Irving Berlin, "I Am Waiting" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "Howl" and "America" by Allen Ginsberg, "American Trilogy" as performed by Elvis Presley, "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen, "Living in America" by James Brown, "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan, "Imagine" by John Lennon, "Mercy Mercy Me" by Marvin Gaye, "Fortunate Son" by John Fogerty, "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood, "American Girl" by Tom Petty, "Pink Houses" by John Mellencamp, "American Pie" by Don McLean, "(They're Coming to) America" by Neil Diamond, "Lexington" by Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Song of Marion's Men" by William Cullen Bryant, "The Divine Source of Liberty" by Samuel Adams, "George Washington" by James Russell Lowell, "Warren's Address" by John Pierpont, "The Veteran and the Child" by Hannah Flagg Gould, "Ticonderoga" by V. B. Wilson, "Valley Forge" by Thomas Buchanan Read, "Nathan Hale" by Francis Miles Finch, "Molly Maguire at Monmouth" by William Collins, "Ode for July the Fourth" by Philip Freneau, "Battle of Trenton" and "Country of Freedom" by Anonymous, "Firework" by Katy Perry, "The Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa, "Semper Fidelis" by John Philip Sousa, "The Marines' Hymn" by Thomas Holcomb, "Anchors Aweigh" by Alfred Hart Miles, "You're a Grand Old Flag" by George M. Cohan, "America (My Country, 'Tis of Thee)" by Samuel Francis Smith

Some folks are born, made to wave the flag
Ooh, they're red, white and blue
And when the band plays, "Hail To The Chief"
Ooh, they point the cannon at you ...
"Fortunate Son" by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival

Here Dead Lie We
by A. E. Housman

Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.

"Here Dead Lie We" is one of my favorite poems because in two perfect sentences it captures much of the heartache and heartbreak of young men who fight and die for their countries in wars which, all too often, have little to do with "national defense" and much more to do with the ambitions of wizened warmongers who sit cynically on the sidelines while other people fight and die. A related poem (which appears below) is "Dulce Et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen, a truly great poet who died just two weeks before the armistice that ended World War I.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights,
that among these are life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness.
Thomas Jefferson, "The Declaration of Independence"

The lines above are poetry, written in a ringing iambic pentameter, like the closing lines of Tennyson's blank verse masterpiece "Ulysses." These may be the most important words ever written, as they changed the course of human history by challenging the "divine right of kings" and placing the rights of commoners on the same plane as those of sovereigns and lords. But it is one of the great ironies of human history that Thomas Jefferson remained a sovereign lord himself. Jefferson was not only a slaveowner, but raised his own children by Sally Hemmings as slaves in his grand mansion and architectural masterpiece, Monticello. It would remain to men and women like Sitting Bull, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Susan B. Anthony, Einstein, Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk, Barney Frank, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and the Kennedy brothers to lobby and fight for a true equality blind to race, creed, age, appearance, sex and sexual preference.

If we are to ever have real peace in the world,
we will have to begin with the children.

Gandhi's words, which strike me as true, remind me of Jesus Christ saying, "Suffer the little children to come unto me." But unfortunately all-too-often Christianity causes children to suffer, because children who are raised in Christian families and churches around the world must face the heavy burden of an "eternal hell." I understand and sympathize because I wrestled with that terror as a child, and even into my adulthood. But I did a careful study of the Bible, and to my surprise I found a simple proof that there is no reason to believe in an eternal hell. If you are a parent, or just someone who cares about children and wants them to be free of irrational fears, please take time to read my simple proof that there is No Hell in the Bible.

Oh, fallen camellias,
if I were you,
I'd leap into the torrent!

Takaha Shugyo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Takaha Shugyo's wonderful haiku almost perfectly captures the idea of freedom through annihilation with its startling image of fallen flowers resurrecting themselves just long enough to leap into a cataract ... or at least that's my interpretation. I love the poem so much that I chose to translate it myself. When I read it, I think of 9-11 and the subsequent wars, and of all the fallen mothers and children and soldiers on both sides of an irrational, unreasoned conflict ... why are we fighting and killing each other, when what we all want, really, is peace and the opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Blowin' in the Wind

by Bob Dylan

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

The first song of Bob Dylan’s that I remember hearing as a boy was “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The questions raised by that song still reverberate today, especially in the aftermath of 9-11 and two trillion-dollar, decade-long wars that have lead to multitudes of deaths and seem to have resolved nothing.

In Time of "The Breaking of Nations"
by Thomas Hardy

Only a man harrowing clods 
  In a slow silent walk, 
With an old horse that stumbles and nods 
  Half asleep as they stalk. 
Only thin smoke without flame
  From the heaps of couch grass: 
Yet this will go onward the same 
  Though Dynasties pass. 
Yonder a maid and her wight 
  Come whispering by;
War's annals will fade into night 
  Ere their story die.

While Thomas Hardy tended to write dark, moody, even cynical poems, it this poem he seems to say that young love will outlast the annals of war and the dynasties that create them.

High Flight
by John Gillespie Magee

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew,
And while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

"High Flight" was written shortly before John Gillespie Magee died in a plane crash at age 19 during World War II. He was an American who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force prior to the United States entering the war. "High Flight" was a favorite poem of Ronald Reagan, who quoted excerpts in his eulogy for the crew of the space shuttle Challenger after it crashed in 1986.

Epitaph for a Palestinian Child
by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

As Americans celebrate Independence Day for ourselves and our loved ones, I think it behooves us to consider the freedom and human rights of Palestinian children, and all the other children who have been denied what we sometimes take for granted  ...

by William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

This is one of the great invocations in the English language: to join William Blake's "mental fight" against the Satanic Mills of big business and warmongering tyrannical government (which Dwight D. Eisenhower would later call the "military-industrial complex"). Blake would undoubtedly have included organized religion in the mix, creating an unholy Trinity for free men and women to oppose.

Wulf and Eadwacer  (Anonymous Ballad, circa 960 AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The outlanders pursue him like crippled game.
They will kill him if he returns to the pack.
It is otherwise with us.

Wulf is on one island; I, on another.
That island is fast, surrounded by fens.
There are fierce men on this island.
They will kill him if he returns to the pack.
It is otherwise with us.

My heart pursued Wulf like a panting hound.
Whenever it rained and I woke, disconsolate,
the bold warrior came; he took me in his arms.
For me, that was pleasant, but its end was loathsome.
Wulf, O, my Wulf, my ache for you
has made me sick; your infrequent visits
have left me famished, but why should I eat?
Do you hear, Eadwacer? A she-wolf has borne
our wretched whelp to the woods.
One can easily sunder what never was one:
our song together.

"Wulf and Eadwacer" is one of the first truly great lyric poems in the English language (a very ancient form of the English language which is virtually unreadable today). In my interpretation, the female speaker has been separated from her lover, Wulf, and is being raped by her captor, Eadwacer. She has borne Eadwacer's child, but something happened to the child in the woods. Did the woman remove the child from Eadwacer's presence to protect the child, or did Eadwacer's wife perhaps get rid of the child out of jealousy? How many times throughout human history have wars caused women and children to suffer, I wonder? In any case, this is wonderful poem and the startling image of a loveless relationship being like a song in which two voices never harmonized remains one of the strongest in English literature.

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
by William Butler Yeats

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

I believe the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats quite wonderfully captured the dilemma of Irish pilots and soldiers who defended Great Britain, which oppressed their countrymen, against another potential oppressor, Germany.

Dover Beach
by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" is one of the very best early modern poems. In it he compares religious faith to the "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" of a turbid sea, and he calls for lovers to be true to each other as "ignorant armies clash by night."

Dulce Et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—-An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Note: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" is from Horace's Odes and means: "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country."

A light exists in spring
by Emily Dickinson

A light exists in Spring
Not present on the year
At any other period—
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary fields
That science cannot overtake
But human nature feels.

It waits upon the lawn,
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.

Emily Dickinson's poem quite magically captures something of the mystery and "feel" of freedom. She compares this elusive freedom, this "light," to a sacrament.

When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer

by Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman was a contemporary of Emily Dickinson, although it seems unlikely that they ever read each other's poems (Dickinson was probably unknown to Whitman because she was a barely-published recluse, while she declined to read his poetry because he was considered scandalous.) And yet Whitman wrote a very similar poem, albeit in a very dissimilar style.

Romance by the Book
by T. Merrill

Suppose just one might suffice, one
matching your vision well enough
to blind you to the rest.

Imagine how in your covers at night
you could fall apart,
perish in the pillows together,

vacate the present
perhaps to reunite in the future,
where one of you might awaken

to behold again
in the other's unshifting immortal light
how nothing alone survives night.

Tom Merrill is a contemporary poet who, like Dickinson and Whitman, captures something of the elusiveness of whatever it is we're trying to capture here on earth. Merrill's love, like Dickinson's light and Whitman's stars, is magical but impossible to pin down for any length of time.

Eros harrows my heart:
wild gales sweeping desolate mountains,
leveling oaks.

― Sappho, fragment 42, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Like Merrill, the Greek poet Sappho touches on the darker side of love, comparing it to a wind that is free but also destructive. I am reminded of silverback gorillas, distant cousins to man, who sometimes shake with longing before mating.

by D. H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

This is a truly wonderful poem about the remembrance of childhood and the acceptance of lost things that cannot be regained.

Luke Havergal

by Edward Arlington Robinson

Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There where the vines cling crimson on the wall,
And in the twilight wait for what will come.
The leaves will whisper there of her, and some,
Like flying words, will strike you as they fall;
But go, and if you listen, she will call.
Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies
To rift the fiery night that's in your eyes;
But there, where western glooms are gathering
The dark will end the dark, if anything:
God slays Himself with every leaf that flies,
And hell is more than half of paradise.
No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies—
In eastern skies.

Out of a grave I come to tell you this,
Out of a grave I come to quench the kiss
That flames upon your forehead with a glow
That blinds you to the way that you must go.
Yes, there is yet one way to where she is,
Bitter, but one that faith may never miss.
Out of a grave I come to tell you this—
To tell you this.

There is the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There are the crimson leaves upon the wall,
Go, for the winds are tearing them away,—
Nor think to riddle the dead words they say,
Nor any more to feel them as they fall;
But go, and if you trust her she will call.
There is the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

This is yet another mysterious poem about the freedom that comes with falling leaves and annihilation. The sun sets in the west, so the western gate may be taken to refer to death.

XLVII - For My Funeral
by A. E. Housman

O thou that from thy mansion
Through time and place to roam,
Dost send abroad thy children,
And then dost call them home,

That men and tribes and nations
And all thy hand hath made
May shelter them from sunshine
In thine eternal shade:

We now to peace and darkness
And earth and thee restore
Thy creature that thou madest
And wilt cast forth no more.

This is one of a number of Housman's dark, powerful poems about loss and death. While some human beings hope for reincarnation, Housman seems to favor a single life followed (depending on one's interpretation) by either happiness or annihilation.

Advice to a Girl
by Sara Teasdale

No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed;
Lay that on your heart,
My young angry dear;
This truth, this hard and precious stone,
Lay it on your hot cheek,
Let it hide your tear.
Hold it like a crystal
When you are alone
And gaze in the depths of the icy stone.
Long, look long and you will be blessed:
No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed.

Sara Teasdale's poem may be taken to be about the freedom of individuality: even if a girl gives something of herself away, still she retains something of herself that cannot be possessed by anyone else.

Between Frosts
by T. Merrill

Framed in my front slider now,
maples masquerading as giant
forsythias in full bloom
will very soon be revealing how
an early leaf's a short-lived flower.

But greater than any loss I prevision
in April's fleeting golden hour
is a building promise of release
from another eternal winter's prison,
wide-open doors and the long-awaited

warm luxurious freedom of being
part of the scene again, at least
till its culminant powers unfold a final
tapestry made to fade away . . .
in earth's perennial pageant of decay.

I believe Tom Merrill probably sides with poets like A. E. Housman and Wallace Stevens, who either deny or profoundly doubt the possibility of an "afterlife."

The Light of Other Days
by Tom Moore

Oft, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me:
    The smiles, the tears
    Of boyhood's years,
  The words of love then spoken;
    The eyes that shone,
    Now dimm'd and gone,
  The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me.

When I remember all
  The friends, so link'd together,
I've seen around me fall
  Like leaves in wintry weather,
    I feel like one
    Who treads alone
  Some banquet-hall deserted,
    Whose lights are fled,
    Whose garlands dead,
  And all but he departed!
Thus, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me.
Sad Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me.

This is a wonderfully haunting poem by a poet who is considered by many to be the national bard of Ireland in the same way that Robert Burns is considered to be the national bard of Scotland. 


by Christina Rossetti

When I am dead, my dearest,
  Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
  Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
  With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
  And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
  I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
  Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
  That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
  And haply may forget.

This is a wonderfully haunting poem about the freedom of forgetting ...

A Noiseless Patient Spider
by Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Walt Whitman was a mystic who seemed to identify with all creation and all living things, even blades of grass. In this exceptional poem he expresses the kinship he feels with a spider.

On My First Son

by Ben Jonson

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I lose all father now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And, if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and asked, say, "Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry,
For whose sake, henceforth, all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much."

This is wonderfully touching poem about escaping the world's misery through death.

To Brooklyn Bridge
by Hart Crane

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty—

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
—Till elevators drop us from our day ...

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,—
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn ...
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon ... Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,—

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path—condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year ...

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

Hart Crane left us a masterpiece which is perhaps easier to feel than to understand. In his poem he seems to see a bridge as a metaphor for freedom expressed in design and structure: "Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!"

Autumn Conundrum
by Michael R. Burch

It's not that every leaf must finally fall,
it's just that we can never catch them all.

I hope my epigram communicates something of both the sense of freedom and the sense of loss engendered by falling autumn leaves.

by George Amabile

All afternoon the snowflakes swirl and fall.
In the park, skaters turn on the scraped mirror
of the duck pond. They are entranced by winter
like figurines trapped in a glass ball.

This is a Christmas card, an icon of safety
and it seems to return each year out of a past
that can still reach us. It speaks for things that last,
like a breathless charm against catastrophe

and those who watch from the road are reassured
by the calm skill, the terse redundancy
that circulates in that time-warped vortex
at the edge of day, near the old stone fort
where forebears dreamed, in their nation’s infancy,
that every ill we suffer could be cured.

George Amabile seems to suggest that the American founding fathers' dreams of freedom and security were illusory, like a Christmas card or figurines inside a glass ball.

It Is A Beauteous Evening, Calm And Free
by William Wordsworth

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worship'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

William Wordsworth, like Walt Whitman and many other mystics, seemed to find God in Nature.

The Solitary
by Sara Teasdale

My heart has grown rich with the passing of years,
   I have less need now than when I was young
To share myself with every comer
   Or shape my thoughts into words with my tongue.
It is one to me that they come or go
   If I have myself and the drive of my will,
And strength to climb on a summer night
   And watch the stars swarm over the hill.
Let them think I love them more than I do,
   Let them think I care, though I go alone;
If it lifts their pride, what is it to me
&   Who am self-complete as a flower or a stone.

Sara Teasdale, on the other hand, seemed to find unity in herself ...

For Her Surgery
by Jack Butler

Over the city the moon rides in mist,
scrim scarred with faint rainbow.
Two days till Easter. The thin clouds run slow, slow,
the wind bells bleed the quietest
of possible musics to the dark lawn.
All possibility we will have children is gone.

I raise a glass half water, half alcohol,
to that light come full again.
Inside, you sleep, somewhere below the pain.
Down at the river, there is a tall
ghost tossing flowers to dark water—
jessamine, rose, and daisy, salvia lyrata . . .

Oh goodbye, goodbye to bloom in the white blaze
of moon on the river, goodbye
to creek joining the creek joining the river, the axil, the Y,
goodbye to the Yes of two Ifs in one phrase . . .
Children bear children. We are grown,
and time has thrown us free under the timeless moon.

This is a wonderful poem about loss and togetherness by one of my favorite contemporary poets ...

The Poem of Poems
by Greg Alan Brownderville

A boy passes ghost-like through a curtain of weeping willow.
In rainbow-stained apparel, birds are singing a cappella.
Suddenly I sense it, in the birds and in the child:
The world is a poem growing wild.

A dewdrop on a blade of grass soon slips from where it clung
Like a perfect word that gathers on the tip of a poet's tongue.
And men are merely characters to love and be defiled.
God is a poem growing wild.

This is another mystical poem reminiscent of those of Walt Whitman and William Wordsworth.

A Last Word
by Ernest Dowson

Let us go hence: the night is now at hand;
The day is overworn, the birds all flown;
And we have reaped the crops the gods have sown;
Despair and death; deep darkness o'er the land,
Broods like an owl; we cannot understand
Laughter or tears, for we have only known
Surpassing vanity: vain things alone
Have driven our perverse and aimless band.
Let us go hence, somewhither strange and cold,
To Hollow Lands where just men and unjust
Find end of labour, where's rest for the old,
Freedom to all from love and fear and lust.
Twine our torn hands! O pray the earth enfold
Our life-sick hearts and turn them into dust.

This is one of the darker modern poems, written by a poet who undoubtedly influenced T. S. Eliot's "The Wasteland."

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
by e. e. cummings

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters, unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things—
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
.... the Cambridge ladies do not care, above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless, the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

Some modern poets like e. e. cummings have seemed to find personal freedom by disputing the claims of Christianity that Christ is "risen." According to cummings, Christ is dead, like Longfellow.

The Darkling Thrush
by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
     When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
     The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
     Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
     Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
     The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
     The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
     Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
     Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
     The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
     Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
     In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
     Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
     Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
     Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
     His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
     And I was unaware.


by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Anthem For Doomed Youth
by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

The Windhover
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

                     To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
  dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

  No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

They Flee from Me
by Thomas Wyatt

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle tame and meek
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
And therewithal sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, Dear heart, how like you this?

It was no dream, I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served,
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

by Lord Alfred Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees.  All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea.  I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart.
Much have I seen and known—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
     This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone.  He works his work, I mine.
     There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Quilted Freedom
by Robin M. Buehler

Enslaved by color, I did not want
These chains that bind me
To the color of my skin.
Indebted to masters unbefitting,
Links forever strung together
To duties expected of me.

Dreams of freedom, just out of reach.
Words of wisdom carried by wind:
Follow the patterns, hung out to dry.
Spoke of the way north: to safety
And the land of the truly free.

Stitch by stitch, the story unfolds
In swatches and patterns
Unveiled by someone's loving hands.
Sitting by candle light;
Others by fires,
They speak of freedoms
Wanted by all mankind:
Branded upon my brain.

Taken as a child,
Away from my family,
My world and my home.
Across the turbulent ocean
To the land of Liberty.

Sold into bondage, eternally enslaved
With the hopes of one day walking free.
Words of wisdom spoken in whispers,
Told of rails underground:

Follow the pattern, hung out to dry.
Swatch by swatch sown together
Into a hand-stitched heirloom
As past generations found
Their way to freedom.

The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

For Rhonda, with Butterflies
by Michael R. Burch

Where does the butterfly go
when lightning rails and thunder howls
and hailstones scream and winter scowls
and storms compound the frost with snow?
Where does the butterfly go?

Where does the rose hide its bloom
when night descends oblique and chill
and stars such vacuum fail to fill?
Where does she then her bloom bestow,
and where does the butterfly go?

And where shall the spirit flee
when life is harsh, too harsh to face,
and hope is lost without a trace?
Oh, when the light of life runs low,
where does the butterfly go?

His Confession
by the Archpoet

circa 1165; translated from the
original Medieval Latin by
Helen Waddell

Seething over inwardly
With fierce indignation,
In my bitterness of soul,
Hear my declaration.
I am of one element,
Levity my matter,
Like enough a withered leaf
For the winds to scatter.

Since it is the property
Of the sapient
To sit firm upon a rock,
it is evident
That I am a fool, since I
Am a flowing river,
Never under the same sky,
Transient for ever.

Hither, thither, masterless
Ship upon the sea,
Wandering through the ways of air,
Go the birds like me.
Bound am I by ne'er a bond,
Prisoner to no key,
Questing go I for my kind,
Find depravity.

Never yet could I endure
Soberness and sadness,
Jests I love and sweeter than
Honey find I gladness.
Whatsoever Venus bids
Is a joy excelling,
Never in an evil heart
Did she make her dwelling.

Down the broad way do I go,
Young and unregretting,
Wrap me in my vices up,
Virtue all forgetting,
Greedier for all delight
Than heaven to enter in:
Since the soul is in me dead,
Better save the skin.

Pardon, pray you, good my lord,
Master of discretion,
But this death I die is sweet,
Most delicious poison.
Wounded to the quick am I
By a young girl's beauty:
She's beyond my touching? Well,
Can't the mind do duty?

Hard beyond all hardness, this
Mastering of Nature:
Who shall say his heart is clean,
Near so fair a creature?
Young are we, so hard a law,
How should we obey it?
And our bodies, they are young,
Shall they have no say in’t?

Sit you down amid the fire,
Will the fire not burn you?
To Pavia come, will you
Just as chaste return you?
Pavia, where Beauty draws
Youth with finger-tips,
Youth entangled in her eyes,
Ravished with her lips.

Let you bring Hippolytus,
In Pavia dine him,
Never more Hippolytus
Will the morning find him.
In Pavia not a road
But leads to venery
Nor among its crowding towers
One to chastity.

Yet a second charge they bring:
I'm forever gaming.
Yea, the dice hath many a time
Stripped me to my shaming.
What an' if the body's cold,
If the mind is burning,
On the anvil hammering,
Rhymes and verses turning?

Look again upon your list.
Is the tavern on it?
Yea, and never have I scorned,
Never shall I scorn it,
Till the holy angels come,
And my eyes discern them,
Singing for the dying soul,
Requiem aeternam.

For on this my heart is set:
When the hour is nigh me,
Let me in the tavern die,
With a tankard by me,
While the angels looking down
Joyously sing o'er me,
Deus sit propitius
Huic potatori.

'Tis the fire that's in the cup
Kindles the soul's torches,
‘Tis the heart that drenched in wine
Flies to heaven's porches.
Sweeter tastes the wine to me
In a tavern tankard
That the watered stuff my Lord
Bishop has decanted.

Let them fast and water drink,
All the poets' chorus,
Fly the market and the crowd
Racketing uproarious.
Sit in quiet spots and think,
Shun the tavern's portal
Write, and never having lived,
Die to be immortal.

Never hath the spirit of
Poetry descended,
Till with food and drink my lean
Belly was distended,
But when Bacchus lords it in
My cerebral story,
Comes Apollo with a rush,
Fills me with his glory.

Unto every man his gift.
Mine was not for fasting.
Never could I find a rhyme
With my stomach wasting.
As the wine is, so the verse:
'Tis a better chorus
When the landlord hath a good
Vintage set before us.

Good my lord, the case is heard,
I myself betray me,
And affirm myself to be
All my fellows say me.
See, they in thy presence are:
Let whoe’er hath known
His own heart and found it clean,
Cast at me the stone.

Related pages: American Fascism, The American Holocausts, Parables of Zion, Let Freedom Sing, The Nakba: The Holocaust of the Palestinians

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