Two Poems and a March for Independence Day

The March to Valley Forge

“The March to Valley Forge” by William Trengo, 1883

In honor of United States of America’s Independence Day on the 4th of July, here are are two thought-provoking, classic poems, plus one of my all-time favorite marches. The first poem, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “A Nation’s Strength,” would make an excellent subject for memorization or copywork, while the second, Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” is a reminder of America’s promise of welcome.

A Nation’s Strength

by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904)

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.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) was a poet of the American Romantic era, as well as an essayist and lecturer. He is considered a leader of the nineteenth-century Transcendentalist movement. You may read more about him at Poets.org.

“Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men
and so it must be daily earned and refreshed—
else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots,
it will wither and die.”
~President Dwight D. Eisenhower


And because most of America’s people “great and strong” (or their ancestors) have come from afar, I add one more poem:

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus (1883)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus (1849 – 1887) was a Jewish-American poet and activist most famous for “The New Colossus.”

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 7:12


The Stars and Stripes Forever

By John Phillips Sousa, beautifully played by the United States Marine Band. 


Here are a few helpful links:

USA.gov: Official information about Independence Day, patriotic music, American recipes, fireworks safety, and more from the U. S. government.

History.com: Here is interesting background information with several short videos to watch. When you open the page, an ad may start playing; just click the X in the upper corner to close it and see the first video.

Epicurious: Recipes and party plans for the 4th of July.

Valley Forge: You may read about George Washington and the troops in Valley Forge at the National Park Service website.

Paul Revere’s Ride: You’ll find Longfellow’s poem, as well as a few resources to help you understand it, at Excellence-in-Literature.com.

1857 McGuffey Readers: You can learn more about teaching American heritage through these wonderful old readers at 1857McGuffey.com.

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