July 4, 2011

Sears: ten dim stars have turned to blood

How does one celebrate Independence Day when the country is in Civil War? Edmund Hamilton Sears (best known for a Christmas carol he wrote) answered the challenge in a poem meant to inspire the kind of unity that led to the creation of the country decades earlier. His poem "Song for July 4, 1861" references the states which have become the Confederacy, but notes that the love of the United States still exists and unity can come once again:

Still wave our streamer's glorious folds
    O'er all the brave and true,
Though ten dim stars have turned to blood
    On yonder field of blue.

It is our nation's judgment-day,
    That makes her stars to fall.
Lo! all the dead start from their graves
    At Freedom's trumpet-call.

And in the thunders of the storm
    She speaks, an angel strong:
"Now comes my reign of righteousness;
    Now ends the slavers' wrong.

Lift up your heads, ye faithful ones,
    For now your prayers prevail.
Ye faithless! hear the tramp of doom,
    And dread the iron hail!

God's last Messiah comes apace
    In Freedom's awful name,
And parts the tribes to right and left, —
    To glory or to shame."

Then wave the streamer's glorious folds
    O'er all the brave and true,
Till all its stars shine bright again
    On yonder field of blue.

Years later, the question would become, "How do you celebrate Independence Day after a Civil War?" That question was answered by Bayard Taylor (with Sidney Lanier) in 1876.

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