Poetry Friday:On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial – Linda Pastan

Poetry Friday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche

Being a Social Studies teacher in an election year is a tricky business. This is especially so when you teach U.S. history from the Revolution through the Civil War, as I do.  We move from the elevated language of our Declaration of Independence to the high hopes and compromises of our Constitution to slavery and the horror of Civil War.   When we study history, we learn that people are complicated and contradictory, that “heroes” often have feet of clay, and that the search for truth can lead us to troublesome discoveries.   We need heroes, but we need truth even more.


On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial –  Linda Pastan

We invent our gods
the way the Greeks did,
in our own image—but magnified.
Athena, the very mother of wisdom,
squabbled with Poseidon
like any human sibling
until their furious tempers
made the sea writhe.
Zeus wore a crown
of lightning bolts one minute,
a cloak of feathers the next,
as driven by earthly lust
he prepared to swoop
down on Leda.
Despite their power,
frailty ran through them
like the darker veins
in the marble of these temples
we call monuments.
Looking at Jefferson now,
I think of the language
he left for us to live by.
I think of the slave
in the kitchen downstairs.

14 thoughts on “Poetry Friday:On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial – Linda Pastan

  1. This poem is brilliant. We hold up these heroes and yet, they were fallible as we all are. Thanks for posting this thought-provoking poem today.

  2. I feel like kids see fallibility in heroes all the time these days — it’s in the news continuously. Sometimes it is hard not to expect the worst!

  3. Your students are lucky, Tara. “We need heroes, but we need truth even more.” echoing others above, but you are courageous to keep this motto at the front. I’m glad you are keeping on with the studies, a tough year for doing the election. The last one was much more fun! Beautiful poem!

  4. I have been searching for words to explain my feelings regarding how all candidates are flawed just by the fact that they are human and the struggle it takes to get into the race. I will remember your words. Thanks Tara.

  5. What a great poem! And you are so right, Tara. Yet what’s most scary to me is that, even when presented with facts, media, rhetoric, and propaganda will still lead folks to see truth as what’s most convenient for them. Tell me when it’s over. :/

  6. It’s good to remember our heroes were fallible humans. It gives us permission to try to rise above our mistakes and bad moments. We can still try to achieve something extraordinary, despite or even because of our humanity.

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