Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Prayer of the Nation

God give us men! A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and ready hands!
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor, and who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And scorn his treacherous flatteries without winking.
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty and in private thinking!
—J. G. Holland (1819–1881), “The Prayer of the Nation,” circa mid‑1850s

This poem has a storied history and has been used over this past 160 years by many persons and groups who believe themselves to be in the right, even some groups that many of us see as evil — even some persons and groups that the opposing side would simultaneously claim as their own impassioned battle cry.

But for those of us who are inclined to do so, let’s not overanalyze the poetic prayer or argue politics. For the moment, let’s just have this without regard to gender or religion, free from distractions of wandering connotations or intents, put aside for now the malleability of human minds and the multitudes of viewpoints; and let’s simply enjoy this poem for the plainness of its words, the timelessness of its ideas, and the inspiration of its call. I intend it here primarily as an interesting example of old words made new, of vintage literature meets current events.