Poetry Friday: Of History and Hope – Miller Williams

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Poetry Friday is hosted by Heidi Mordhorst @ my juicy little universe

It’s July 4th., and my town is getting ready for the festivities as it always does – big parade and even bigger fireworks.

july 4th

 All week long,  residents have been lining the parade route with chairs of all sizes – even as predictions for thunderstorms have swirled about.  We are, it seems, a village of optimists.

ridgewood chairs

As  I sip my morning coffee on our front porch, I see neighbors (coffee and bagel in hand) making their way to the parade route.  Even through the skies are grey and gloomy, there is an air of festivity and anticipation.  Some children have attached balloons (red, white, and blue – of course) to the wagons and bikes they ride.  There  was a storm last night, and the branch that the town promised to take care of last year has finally broken free.  Unfortunately, it has come to rest across the  mouth of our driveway, bringing down some cable wires.  The town has promised to come by to take care of this,too.

It’s the Fourth of July –  and I am happy (for the moment) to watch children racing to tag a good seat for the parade, to celebrate this day.

Of History and Hope – Miller Williams

We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.
But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.
(You can read the rest of this poem here.)

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13 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Of History and Hope – Miller Williams

  1. There are many images here of hope, and then I love the way some parts are slipped in, like “And brambles, that we can no longer allow.” That, at least to me, says quite a lot. Thanks Tara, and happy Independence Day, hoping for you no rain!

  2. Tara, your introduction tied in nicely with the poem because America is about finding hope on such a significant holiday. “We are, it seems, a village of optimists” – speaks to the beauty of today. Optimistically, Americans, focus on the hope that future brings. Enjoy the 4th.

  3. Hi, Tara. One of our local towns also has a (hopeful) tradition of putting out lawn chairs days and days ahead of the 4th of July parade. Many people are asking today, “Who are we?” as a country. This poem captures that questioning. I found the repeated mention of the dead especially powerful.

  4. The poem captures so many images of who we are or hope to be. I had to smile at the children rarely in a row. Like we try so hard to train them, but they go where they go. Happy 4th! Hope you can get out of your driveway to enjoy the parade.

  5. Nothing like a parade to get your heart beating fast! Our local high school band has been marching around the neighborhood practicing for the upcoming Seafair Parade – people run out of their houses and wave as the band goes by! Thanks for posting the Miller Williams poem. I posted a real downer for the Poetry Stretch over at MISS. RUMPHIUS, but mainly I was trying to ask these same question – as a country, who are now, who have we been, who do we hope to be?

  6. Love your description of your morning! Our family decided to watch “Jaws” (which takes place over 4th of July weekend) instead of watching fireworks. (It’s still scary!)

  7. Hi, Tara–best welcome is your header full of Smithling whiteboard messages. I sometimes wonder if it could be a bad thing, a problem that my students know how deeply they are Ms. Mordhorst’s Mighty Minnows (it certainly seems to make things harder for subs). But then I think, better they should belong so powerfully to a community–everything means more in that context, I think.

    This poem is so…bare. I means it has its fancy literary parts, but basically it’s
    “We mean to be the people we meant to be,
    to keep on going where we meant to go….”

    That “long gift” is a hope indeed!

    • I wonder, too, about my kids identifying so strongly with our room and our way of living our school year. But, I think that that strong sense of community allows us to be much braver as learners – we can take risks and ask questions because we have that bond. It takes work and trust and patience to create Ms. Mordhorst’s Mighty Minnows and Smithlings, let’s celebrate that!

  8. These lines moved me today, dearest Tara:
    “But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
    The disenfranchised dead want to know.
    We mean to be the people we meant to be,
    to keep on going where we meant to go.
    But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
    except in the minds of those who will call it Now”

    As you might know, we have family who have been living in the US for more than 20 years now, and as such we celebrate with you in spirit during this day. 🙂

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