From the NewsHour Archives: Robert Pinsky on the 4th of July

BY Meena Ganesan  July 4, 2013 at 4:12 PM EST


A face NewsHour viewers may remember from his many appearances on the program, poet critic Robert Pinsky served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1997 to 2000. Here, Pinsky reads a poem for the Fourth of July in 2001.

On July 4, 2001, former poet laureate Robert Pinsky read aloud for NewsHour viewers the concluding section of Walt Whitman’s “By Blue Ontario’s Shore.” Pinsky said, “Whitman’s list of what he ‘will not shirk’ remains an attractive agenda and can inspire a credible patriotism.”

Here, for the 4th of July, are Walt Whitman’s lines:

O I see flashing that this America is only you and me,

Its power, weapons, testimony, are you and me,

Its crimes, lies, thefts, defections, are you and me,

Its Congress is you and me, the officers, capitols, armies, ships,

are you and me,

Its endless gestations of new States are you and me,

The war, (that war so bloody and grim, the war I will henceforth

forget), was you and me,

Natural and artificial are you and me,

Freedom, language, poems, employments, are you and me,

Past, present, future, are you and me.

I dare not shirk any part of myself,

Not any part of America good or bad,

Not to build for that which builds for mankind,

Not to balance ranks, complexions, creeds, and the sexes,

Not to justify science nor the march of equality,

Nor to feed the arrogant blood of the brawn belov’d of time . . .

On July 4, 2002, in front of Boston’s Charles River, Pinsky read aloud John Hollander’s poem “Sparklers.”

Pinsky said the poem “celebrates fireworks on a grand scale, on a national scale, and also by the end of the poem on an intimate scale.”

Oh,

say can you see

how our old

ten and two and

one

Our thirteen starters twinkling, an original star

Flared up, a July fourth supernova, (memory

Watching starry rockets now in grandstands, or along

Chilly beaches) Can you see how then it exploded

Westward, southward, urging the hegemony of light

On hills of high, darkened cloud, unwilling plains, milky

Rivers and one-candled mountain-cabins of the night?

Democracy which closes the past against us (said

Tocqueville) opens the future up: but as you sit here

With me on the high rocks at Cape Eleuthera,

Truthful in your shawl, all the light that ever was shines

In your eyes, later to burn off tomorrow’s blankness.