Years ago, I bought some old (late 19th century) books at a book sale for an organization in Independence.

One of those contained the following poem, written around Centennial of our country. I have not seen any poem that comes close to capturing the celebration, sacrifice and commitment that Will Carleton expressed in his poem.

First a word of explanation about the poem: It was written, of course, in the 19th century, when ideas were expressed with more complexity (and when fireworks were a lot more fun and a lot more dangerous). Thus, the line about the noisy fireworks making tempting one to “philogical sin” means the noise makes some people want to cuss. And, of course, the word “natal” refers to birth. And the word "race" means all of us Americans.

Our Natal Day

by Will Carleton

Oh, the Fourth of July!

When fire-crackers fly,

And urchins in petticoats tyrants defy

When all the still air

Creeps away in despair

And clamor is king,

Be the day dark or fair!

When freedom’s red flowers

Fall in star-spangled showers

And liberty capers for

Twenty-four hours

When the morn’s ushered in

By a sleep-crushing din

That tempts us to use

Philological sin

When the forenoon advances

With large circumstances

Subjecting our lives

To debatable chances

When the soldiers of peace

Their attractions increase

By marching, protected

With clubs of police

When the little toy gun

Has its share of the fun

By teaching short-hand

To the favorite son.

Oh, the Fourth of July!

When grand souls hover nigh!

When Washington bends

From the honest blue sky!

When Jefferson stands — Famous scribe of all lands —

The charter of heaven in his glorified hands!

When his comrade, strong, high,

John Adams-comes nigh,

(For both went to their rest the same Fourth of July!)

When Franklin-grand, droll That could lightnings control,

Comes here with his sturdy, progressive old soul;

When freedom's strong staff Hancock-with a laugh,

Writes in memory's album his huge autograph!

But let thought have its way

And give memory sway;

Do we think of the cost of this glorified day?

While the harvest-field waves,

Do we think of those braves

In the farms thickly planted with thousands of graves?

How the great flag up there,

Man and pure as the air,

Has been drabbled with blood-drops, and trailed in despair?

Do we know what a land

God hath placed in our hand,

To be made into star-gems, or crushed into sand?

Let us feel that our race,

Doomed to no second place,

Must glitter with triumph, or die in disgrace

That millions unborn,

At night, noon, and morn,

Will thank us with blessings, or curse us with scorn,

For raising more high

Freedom's flag to the sky,

Or losing forever the Fourth of July!

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