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Next to of course god america i

Think of Browning. This is a dramatic monologue too.  So the first question might be, who is speaking? Is it the bar bore? Is it a politician? It seems like the rambling speech of someone who is drunk, except for the last word – we wouldn’t expect water.  The glass of water suggests someone speaking publicly. 

The incoherence is intended. The writer is satirising the speaker as an unthinking jingoistic patriot, happy to celebrate the soldiers who rush to ‘defend liberty’.  (A message as relevant today as when it was written.)

"My Country, 'Tis of Thee", also known as "America", is an American patriotic song, whose lyrics were written by Samuel Francis Smith.[2] The melody used is the same as that of the national anthem of the United Kingdom, "God Save the Queen", arranged by Thomas Arne. The song served as one of the de facto national anthems of the United States (along with songs like "Hail, Columbia") before the adoption of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the official anthem in 1931. (Source: Wikipedia)

‘O say can you see, by the dawn's early light’ is the first line from The Star Spangled Banner. It continues:
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The other verses can be found on Wikipedia.

  • Rather than explaining all this to students, I would ask them to do some detective work, directing them to: ‘Oh say, can you see by the dawn’s early’ and ‘my country ‘tis of…’ and giving them the next words if they become stuck.
  • You might also ask them to try to punctuate it. This is my version, but there could be others:

This is my rendition of the poem as I think it might make most sense.

“Next to (of course, God) America I love you, land of the pilgrims and so forth.

Oh say, can you see by the dawn’s early (light), my country ‘tis of (thee)…

Centuries come and go and are no more. What of it? We should worry!

In every language, even deaf and dumb, thy sons acclaim your glorious name, by gorry! By jingo! By gee! By gosh! By gum!

Why, talk of beauty, what could be more beautiful than these heroic happy dead who rush like lions to the roaring slaughter? They did not stop to think, they died instead. Then shall the voice of liberty be mute?”

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water.

  • Ask them to decide who the speaker might be and in what situation.
  • Discuss whether this qualifies as an anti-war poem.
  • Try different ways of reading it aloud.  Here is Cummings’ own reading: https://sites.google.com/site/theliteratureofpoetry/3
  • Discuss the form of the poem. In spite of its seeming incoherence, there is regular pattern which holds the whole thing together.
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