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4th of July Poem

July 4, 2001 at 12:00 AM EST
Former poet laureate Robert Pinsky reads a poem for the 4th of July.

TRANSCRIPT

ROBERT PINSKY: A problem with expressing patriotism is the tendency to leave out the negative, so that the patriotic feeling seems false or blind.

Walt Whitman, in the concluding section of “By Blue Ontario’s Shore,” deals with that difficulty by listing what he will not shirk.

Whitman’s list of what he “will not shirk” remains an attractive agenda and can inspire a credible patriotism, one that means too include, as Whitman says, “all.” 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, likes, 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 beloved of time. . . .

ROBERT PINSKY: And a little further on…

I am for those who walk abreast with the whole earth, 
Who inaugurate one to inaugurate all.