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It’s the first week of July — Fourth-of-July week — and that means our homeschool poem-of-the-week is an American traditional: “A Nation’s Strength” by William Ralph (not Ralph Waldo) Emerson.
A Nation’s Strength
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.
William Ralph Emerson (1833–1917) was an architect and occasional poet, and this patriotic American verse, often taught in schools in years past, is frequently misattributed to William’s more famous cousin Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). It’s an easy mistake to make — their styles are similar — but note how William the architect has constructed this whole poem around the architectural metaphor of a nation supported by pillars on a strong foundation. The meter is the familiar eights-and-sixes pattern that we’ve seen before — it’s especially common in the poetry of Emily Dickinson.
What wonderful words have you found and what literary discoveries have you made in your homeschool this week? 😊
❡ A people great and strong: If a special line or turn of phrase happens to strike you in one of our weekly poems, just copy it onto your homeschool bulletin board for a few days and invite your students to speak it aloud — that’s all it takes to begin a new poetical friendship and learn a few lovely words that will stay with you for life. 😊
❡ Here, said the year: This post is one of our regular homeschool poems-of-the-week. Print your own River Houses Poetry Calendar (riverhouses.org/calendars) and follow along with us as we visit forty-eight of our favorite friends. 📖