On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York, took his oath of office as the first President of the United States. Today’s poem, composed by John Greenleaf Whittier, was read on April 30, 1889, at the centennial celebration of Washington’s first taking the oath of presidential office.
April 29, 2013
Born in New York City, Emma Lazarus (1849–87) was one of the first prominent Jewish American poets. She is most famous for her 1883 sonnet, “The New Colossus,” which describes the hope of immigrants looking for a new life in the United States. After her death, in 1902, excerpts from the poem were inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, immortalizing Lazarus’ contribution to American literature.
April 26, 2013
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was written in 1861 as an abolitionist song by Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910), a prominent American abolitionist and social activist. While witnessing a review of Union troops in Washington, D.C., Howe heard the Union army marching song “John Brown’s Body” set to a tune written by William Steffe (1830–90). The stirring tune inspired her to write new lyrics: this poem came to her … Read more »
April 25, 2013
April 24, 2013
Like several of our earlier poems, Edwin Arlington Robinson’s 1909 tribute to Abraham Lincoln, “The Master,” also takes up the theme of national memory. In the poem, Robinson, a lover of irony, recalls the ridicule Lincoln once endured in light of Americans’ newfound appreciation for their 16th president after his successful prosecution of the Civil War and tragic assassination.
April 23, 2013
Did you know that our National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was first published as a poem titled the “Defence of Fort McHenry”? Francis Scott Key (1779–1843), Washington lawyer and amateur poet, was inspired to pen the poem by the unlikely success of American troops resisting the British attack on Baltimore’s Fort McHenry on September 13, 1814, two days after the burning of the capital.
Nearly all American school-children are taught the … Read more »
April 22, 2013
The USS Constitution was one of the original six frigates of the United States Navy, commissioned by the Naval Act of 1794. It was given the nickname of “Old Ironsides” after its victorious naval battle with the HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812.
In September 1830, the Boston Daily Advertiser announced that the Navy planned to dismantle the historic warship. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., a prominent Cambridge, MA physician and author, read … Read more »
April 19, 2013
On April 19, 1775, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first military engagements of the Revolutionary War, were fought. These battles would inspire Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous poem, “Concord Hymn,” which he wrote for the July 4, 1837 dedication of a memorial obelisk commemorating the fight at Concord.
April 18, 2013
On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere, a Boston silversmith, was asked by Joseph Warren to ride to Lexington, Massachusetts to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British troops were marching to arrest them. After crossing the Charles River by rowboat, he rode to Lexington, alerting patriots along the way. Revere got word to Adams and Hancock, but was captured by a British Army patrol on his way to Concord. Revere … Read more »
April 17, 2013
Emily Dickinson (1830–86) once defined poetry this way: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”
Dickinson’s elliptical poem 1129, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” (1868), often affects readers … Read more »