What makes a nation's pillars high
And it's foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?
It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.
Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.
And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.
Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long.
Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Better known as an American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was also a published poet. A Nation's Strength is one of his more patriotic poems. The Fourth of July is a fitting day to become reacquainted with Emerson and his poem. The accompanying image is of Jasper Johns' Flag. On permanent display at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) Flag was created in 1954. The gallery label text reads; “One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag,” Johns has said of this work, “and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.”)