America Was Promises

by Archibald MacLeish

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"It Was Man Who Had Been Promised"

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 233

Context: Beginning with the question, "America was promises to whom?" the poet takes a critical look at America, the land of promises. After exploring several traditional sources for the answer, he relies at last on the cold, dissillusioning statement of the men who have died in war: "The promises are theirs who take them." America was a romantic promise to those who sought a new life. But its greatest promise was as a land to enrich mankind, as a garden to nurture and cultivate the divine and noble faculties of humanity. As man became obsessed by the resources of his new land, however, his values were translated into dollars and cents. He became a victim of his wealth. Yet implicit in the visions of the great men of America is an image of the promises of America and of the recipients of these promises. In Jefferson is the message of America's election; in Adams is the message of man's endowments; in Paine is the message of man's individual sovereignty. The promises of America were made to man, contem-plating his worth and dignity:

It was Man the promise contemplated.
The times had chosen Man: no other:
Bloom on his face of every future:
Brother of stars and of all travelers:
Brother of time and of all mysteries:
Brother of grass also: of fruit trees.
It was Man who had been promised: who should have.

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