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The American flag in American literature

american-flag-for-desktopA book that I would buy, if someone would write it, is the book that brings together all the poetry and literature written about the American flag—where the Stars and Stripes is the primary focus of the work. For now, I am left to research on my own.

Poetry is easier to find than essays or other forms of literature. And maybe the book is out there, and I just haven’t found it. If you, O Reader, know of such a work, please comment below or send a note.

Joseph Rodman Drake was born in New York City, August 17, 1795, and died in New York City on September 21, 1820. Drake’s life was short, but he left behind many creative works, which includes “The American Flag.” It was published in 1836 by his daughter under the title of “The Culprit Fay, and Other Poems.”

The American Flag

by Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820)

I

When Freedom, from her mountain height,
Unfurled her standard to the air,
She tore the azure robe of night,
And set the stars of glory there;
She mingled with its gorgeous dyes
The milky baldric of the skies,
And striped its pure, celestial white
With streakings of the morning light;
Then, from his mansion in the sun,
She called her eagle bearer down,
And gave into his mighty hand,
The symbol of her chosen land.

II

Majestic monarch of the cloud!
Who rear’st aloft thy regal form,
To hear the tempest-trumpings loud,
And see the lightning-lances driven
When strive the warriors of the storm,
And rolls the thunder-drum of heaven–
Child of the sun! to thee ‘t is given
To guard the banner of the free,
To hover in the sulphur smoke,
To ward away the battle-stroke,
And bid its blendings shine afar,
Like rainbows on the cloud of war,
The harbingers of victory!

III

Flag of the brave! thy folds shall fly,
The sign of hope and triumph high,
When speaks the signal-trumpet tone,
And the long line comes gleaming on:
Ere yet the life-blood, warm and wet,
Has dimmed the glistening bayonet,
Each soldier eye shall brightly turn
Where the sky-born glories burn,
And, as his springing steps advance,
Catch war and vengeance from the glance;
And when the cannon-mouthings loud
Heave in wild wreaths the battle-shroud,
And gory sabres rise and fall,
Like shoots of flame on midnight’s pall;
Then shall thy meteor-glances glow,
And cowering foes shall shrink beneath
Each gallant arm that strikes below
That lovely messenger of death.

IV

Flag of the seas! on ocean wave
Thy stars shall glitter o’er the brave;
When death, careering on the gale,
Sweeps darkly round the bellied sail,
And frighted waves rush wildly back
Before the broadside’s reeling rack,
Each dying wanderer of the sea
Shall look at once to heaven and thee,
And smile to see thy splendors fly
In triumph o’er his closing eye.

V

Flag of the free heart’s hope and home,
By angel hands to valor given;
Thy stars have lit the welkin dome,
And all thy hues were born in heaven.
Forever float that standard sheet!
Where breathes the foe but falls before us,
With Freedom’s soil beneath our feet,
And Freedom’s banner streaming o’er us?

3 thoughts on “The American flag in American literature

  1. Dear Deborah,

    I totally agree with you that there should be a book written with just poems associated with the American Flag. I’ve been collecting such poems for years and have filled close to 4 spiral notebooks. Another great book idea would be to compile flag-related stories into one great book or publish it in the same book with the poems. Over the years, I have collected many stories from different sources. I’m sure you are familiar with the Mike Christiansen story. Believe me, there are lots of stories having to do with our flag out there. I would love to see them published into one book. Changing subject, are you aware there is another Flag picture available from Jack Dawson, the artist? It’s title is “Impressions of Old Glory”. If you go to http://www.bittersweetgallery.com, you will see this beautiful flag picture that has hidden symbols and objects in it. You might want to let all the Daily Flag subscribers know about this website.

    I’ve been enjoying the Daily Flag site. Just found it actually.

    Sue

  2. Hi Sue—I’m so glad you found The Daily Flag. I will take a look at the website you linked to. I wrote about Michael Christian on July 3. Are we talking about the same man—who made an American flag while a prisoner in North Vietnam? (this will be confusing to anyone who comes along and reads the comments because the dates will be out of order!)

  3. Yes, that is the same man (I didn’t spell his last name correctly, though). There are so many stories out there if someone was experienced and could compile them all into a book. If anyone finds any Flag related true stories that they think I may not have seen yet, please email me.

    Thanks!

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