Patriotic Poems for Independence Day

National Pride and Patriotic Fervor, Celebrate the Fourth in Verse

girl flying American flag in field
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Patriotism is the theme for the Fourth of July. Many poets have taken on the subject over the years and their words, even in part, have been engrained in the minds of millions of Americans. From Whitman to Emerson and Longfellow to Blake and beyond, these are the poems that have inspired patriots for years.

Walt Whitman, “I Hear America Singing

The collection of Walt Whitman's poems known as "Leaves of Grass" was published a total of seven times during the poet's lifetime.

Each edition held different poems and in the 1860 edition, "I Hear America Singing" made its debut. Yet, Whitman made some changes and the version below is the 1867 version.

The differences between the two editions are minimal at best. Most notably, the first verse was changed from "American mouth-songs !" to the lyrical lines you'll find below.

It is quite interesting to note that the two editions were printed just prior to and after the Civil War. In the context of the country during that time, Whitman's words take on an even more powerful meaning. America was divided, but the differences were not extreme when viewed from the songs of the individual.

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—
Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—
At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

More From Whitman's "Leaves of Grass"

The many editions of "Leaves of Grass" are filled with poems on a variety of subject matter. When it comes to patriotism, Whitman penned some of the best poetry and this contributed to his notoriety as one of America's great poets.

  • “By Blue Ontario’s Shore” (first published in the 1867 edition) - The poet spends this poem in a contemplative state marked with talk of liberty and freedom. Lines like "Chant me the poem, it said, that comes from the soul of America," and "O America because you build for mankind I build for you," are inspiring. At the same time, the narrator seems haunted by troubles and questions.
  • “Song of the Broad-Axe” (first published in the 1856 edition) - An epic piece of poetry, Whitman embodies too many facets of America and Americans in this poem to note in a brief summary. It is a wonderful look at the individual spirit that formed the country and the strength it took from each and every person through the powerful symbol of the broad-axe.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Concord Hymn

The Fourth of July celebrates America's independence and few poems remind us of the sacrifices required during the Revolutionary War better than Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Concord Hymn." It was sung at the completion of the Concord Battle Monument on April 19, 1837.

Emerson settled in Concord, Massachusetts after marrying his second wife, Lydia Jackson, in 1835. He was known for his admiration of self-reliance and individualism. These two factors seem to have a heavy influence on the personal nature and deep patriotic feelings he penned in this poem.

The last line of the first stanza - "the shot heard round the world" - was quickly made famous and remains a hallmark for describing the valiant efforts of the American revolutionaries.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world,

The foe long since in silence slept,
Alike the Conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone,
That memory may their deed redeem,
When like our sires our sons are gone.

Spirit! who made those freemen dare
To die, or leave their children free,
Bid time and nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and Thee.

This was not the only patriotic poem Emerson wrote. In 1904, 22 years after his death,  “A Nation’s Strength” was published. The poet's patriotic zeal appears once again in lines like "Men who for truth and honor’s sake/Stand fast and suffer long."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Paul Revere’s Ride

The opening lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1863 poem are etched in the memories of many Americans. The poet was known for his lyrical poems that retraced historical events and in 1863, "Paul Revere's Ride" was published, giving Americans a new, amazingly detailed, and dramatically versed look at one of the most famous nights in the country's short history.

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

More Longfellow

“O Ship of State” (“The Republic” from “The Building of the Ship,” 1850) - A contemporary of both Emerson and Whitman, Longfellow also saw the building of a young country and this influenced many of his poems.

Though it reads as a simple poetic description of ship building, it is, in reality, a metaphor for the building of America. Piece by piece, the country came together, just as those ships built near Longfellow's Portland, Maine home.

The patriotic enthusiasm of "O Ship of State" extended beyond America. Franklin Roosevelt quoted the opening lines in a personal letter to Winston Churchhill during World War II to rally his ally's spirit.

More Famous Poems About America

Though those are some of the most noted poems appropriate for Independence Day, they are not alone. The following verses are equally popular and express national pride perfectly.

  • William Blake, “America, A Prophecy” (1793) - Written by the famous English poet 17 years after the American Revolution, this poem has long been an icon in patriotic poetry. A mythical look at what might come out of the new country, Blake romanticizes the tale and clearly shows he too has no love for tyranny or the King.
  • Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus” (1883) - Written to raise funds for the base of the Statue of Liberty, this famous poem is engraved on it for all to see. The lines "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," speak volumes to the nation of immigrants.
  • Carl Sandburg, “Good Night” (1920) - Fireworks over the pier on the Fourth of July, Sandburg's short poem is both timeless and timely. If you're seeking a poem to memorize, this is a fantastic choice.
  • Claude McKay, “America” (1921) - A love sonnet written by a leader of the Harlem Rennaissance, "America" portrays the poet's adoration for the country while, at the same time, confronting the troubles he has seen in his community.
  • Amy Lowell, Excerpt from “The Congressional Library” (1922) - Published in The Literary Digest (incorrectly, at first), the poet captures the wonderful architecture and art of this historic building that houses the nation's archives. She also wonders about its future as well as the library as a reflection on all Americans.
  • Stephen Vincent Benét, “American Names” (1927) - Both a geography lesson and a poem examining the poetic styling of names, the poet explores sound and place in lighthearted verse.