Any ideas for a classic American History poem? Hi! I have to memorize a poem for a class that I am taking. I can't do the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. So I'm kind of stumped! Any ideas appreciated as long as has to do with American History.

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Can it be an excerpt from a poem? How about John Brown? There is also the Star Spangled Banner, which actually was once a poem. A lot of people don't know that. I think you should choose your favorite time period and then look for poems from that period.
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A short and poignant one was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) as his response to the news that the outdated warship Constitution was about to be scrapped in the 1830's.  Because of his poem, the public realized that this historically important ship was about to be lost.  Holmes makes his point somewhat sardonically, but he makes his point -- the public donated the funds to restore the vessel, which you can still see today in Boston Harbor:

Ay, tear her tattered ensign down! 
Long has it waved on high, 
And many an eye has danced to see 
That banner in the sky; 
Beneath it rung the battle shout, 
And burst the cannon’s roar; — 
The meteor of the ocean air 
Shall sweep the clouds no more.

Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood, 
Where knelt the vanquished foe, 
When winds were hurrying o’er the flood, 
And waves were white below, 
No more shall feel the victor’s tread, 
Or know the conquered knee; — 
The harpies of the shore shall pluck 
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk 
Should sink beneath the wave; 
Her thunders shook the mighty deep, 
And there should be her grave; 
Nail to the mast her holy flag, 
Set every threadbare sail, 
And give her to the god of storms, 
The lightning and the gale!


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I am going to pivot a bit on this one.  Why not choose something from Langston Hughes.  Certainly, the standards of American poetry talk much about history, but I think that Hughes also discusses the elements of American History and Sociology.  A poem like "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" or "I, Too" or "Harlem" can go very far in bringing out what it means to live in American History.  Hughes is interesting because he is mindful of American History and the poets that "sing" it.  In his poetry, he "sings" something else, and this is the reality of American History on people of color, specifically African- Americans.  I think that reading poetry centering on American History from one who writes about the "original sin" of slavery and the ideas that American History is one where servitude is evident could really be quite interesting in a study.  Hughes offers the reader an understanding of the promises of American History when it collides with the reality of American life.  In this, a great discussion and profound understanding of both American History and American Literature emerges.  It is representative of classic "American" thought because Hughes understands his place in the American pantheon of literary expression and his responsibility to both speak for it and add to it.

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