Monday, January 20, 2014

The Ballad of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963

On this day in which we honor and remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am pleased to share this poem by J. Patrick Lewis.

The Ballad of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963

Ten thousands join ten thousands
Without goading police.
The singers sing, their anthems ring,
The speakers say their piece.

Around the world astonishment—
The ceremonies heard
Or seen on every continent,
And still to come: The Word.

Spectators waving handkerchiefs,
Small children, hearts to seize,
Will tell it taller years from now,
Grandchildren at their knees.

Blue sunshine worships morning,
No cloud would dare to rain
For in his jacket mercy
And in his pocket pain.

Equality his brother
And sisterhood his pride
Meet common sense, nonviolence,
The means he’s deified.

The afternoon is dying down,
The Reverend takes the stage.
George Washington spreads out the book,
Abe Lincoln turns the page.

He reads his notes religiously,
An old familiar theme.
“But please, Martin,” Mahalia yells,
“Tell ‘em about the dream!”

And first he puts away his speech
Then sweeps away the crowd:
The memory of his remarks
Peals like a thundercloud.

“The content of our character”
Personifies a sage.
One day in 1963
Belongs to every age.

Poem ©J. Patrick Lewis. All rights reserved.

If you are interested in more poems on civil rights heroes, check out When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis. It includes an introductory sonnet and seventeen poems about both women and men who stood up against injustice of every kind. This is how the book begins.

The poor and dispossessed take up the drums
For civil rights—freedoms to think and speak,
Petition, pray, and vote. When thunder comes,
The civil righteous are finished being meek.
Why Sylvia Mendez bet against long odds,
How Harvey Milk turned hatred on its head,
Why Helen Zia railed against tin gods,
How Freedom Summer's soldiers faced the dread
Are tales of thunder that I hope to tell
From my thin bag of verse for you to hear
In miniature, like ringing a small bell,
And know a million bells can drown out fear.
For history was mute witness when such crimes
Discolored and discredited our times.

Poem ©J. Patrick Lewis. All rights reserved.

You can learn even more about this book in the Chronicle Books Blog post U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis Writes about Rights.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Tricia, I haven't seen you since Book Buddies, five or six years ago. One of my Facebook friends shared something you had posted, so I came over to tell you I miss seeing you. Hope all is well. Book Buddies is still going, though it doesn't have as many members now.

    Are you putting science and math stuff somewhere else now? I noticed a few years ago you were mostly doing poetry here. Good to "run into" you on Facebook.