A NATION MADE OF POETRY

Autor: Joannie Fischer Fuente: Hispanidad

The official documents now on display in Washington, D.C., offer one version of America's story. It's an authorized biography of sorts, screened and sanctioned. But the beauty of words in a democracy is that anyone can offer them up, and they live or die not by a ruler's dictate, but by their ability to permeate hearts and minds, to ignite passions, and to provoke action. Throughout our history, we have learned that words with enough resonance--whether from a slave, a student, or a songwriter--can change history as dramatically as any decree.

In fact, for every official document marking our nation's progress, there are countless others that have steered events, whether by inciting, critiquing, warning, encouraging, cajoling, enraging, or inspiring. Sometimes the words in these unofficial manifestos are so powerful that they still echo through time, blending with other potent phrases from other outspoken souls to form a grand montage of ideas and urgings, odes and rants, tall tales and truthful testimonies. This "unauthorized" biography of our nation is scrawled in letters and diaries, in pamphlets and propaganda, in poems and rock concerts, in novels and essays. From the whole, vast array, we each pick and choose those lines that move us most, and piece together our own story of what it really means to be an American.
To be sure, without some of these scripts, key moments in U.S. history might never even have taken place. Without Thomas Paine's elegant and angry prose, for example, we might not even exist as an independent country today. In 1775, Colonial leaders were torn by warring views about how to deal with mother England. Then, in January 1776, Paine's pamphlet Common Sense was published in Philadelphia, opening with the legendary phrase, "These are the times that try men's souls." It argued forcefully for the necessity of revolution and sold 150,000 copies overnight. It's widely credited with overcoming dissenters' qualms and unifying opinion enough to make the Declaration of Independence possible. "Without the pen of Paine," said John Adams, "the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain."
So, too, was the Civil War sparked not by the flare of a cannon but by a flair for language. Although slavery had been controversial for 100 years, and tensions between the North and South ran strong and deep, it took novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin to convey in intimate detail the horrors of slavery and galvanize the abolitionist movement. In 1851 and 1852, roughly 10 years before the siege of Fort Sumter, some 300,000 people had devoured her tome, published in weekly installments in a magazine and ending with this exhortation: "On the shores of our free states are emerging the poor, shattered, broken remnants of families. . . . They come to seek a refuge among you." Stowe so famously fueled fevers that Abraham Lincoln, upon meeting her in 1862, is said to have declared, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!"
http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/030922/usnews/22close.htm
 
 
 
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