Three Views on America . . . Day 10 of NPM

For Day 10 of National Poetry Month, three views of America: one from Walt Whitman, Claude McKay, and Levi’s “Go Forth” Campaign.

This might be a great way to engage your students in what “America” means . . . or what it meant, and how that meaning has changed (or not) over time. These could easily be Socratic Seminar topics or ideas for inspiration for their own “America” poem.  (This may be especially poignant after the recent school stabbing . . . they could even take the idea and make the title “School”)

It may also be interesting to ask students, with so many poems by the title “America,” why would Levi’s choose Whitman’s?  Why not McKay’s?  Great opportunity to analyze the commercial as text for purpose/audience/context.  Enjoy!

America by Walt Whitman

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

The Levi’s commercial that uses Whitman’s poem:

America by Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
(1921)
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