Friday, July 6, 2018

Poetry Friday: Independence, reported

Sometimes, the days before and after a key historical event are worth celebrating as much as the event itself.  Today, July 6th, is one of those days.

The Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776, but the text of the Declaration of Independence was not approved until the 4th, which wound up being the date printed on the broadsides sent to the states to be read. One of the most famous of those readings was on July 8th, in Independence Square in Philadelphia, by Col. John Nixon, next to what would be called "the Liberty Bell." A close second might be July 9th, which is the date on which Gen. George Washington directed the Declaration be read to his troops.

But what of people not within hearing range of these readings? When did they first encounter the words of the Declaration? It seems the answer is:  as soon as their local newspaper printed it.

In fact, days before some of those public readings, the full text of the Declaration appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on July 6th, 1776. Other newspapers, including those in London and around the world, followed.

So, for today's poetry challenge, I choose to honor July 6th, the day the Declaration made it to the rest of us.  Here's to newspapers, and independence, and words that matter.

The Sixth

The sixth, a day unwreathed in stars—
Not yet eighth; when broadsides were read

To mothers of boys not yet dead
And ere the ninth, to troops war scarred— 

And yet, the sixth a salvo sent
Of spotty ink to stripe the white
Unsteady page, declaring rent

A union; dead a peace; by right

A nation born; and though no trumpets blew
By word by word by word, the Fourth was news.

                          ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Note: This form is modeled after a structure used by poet and playwright Aphra Behn, one of the first English women to earn her living by writing. (Essentially, it's a rhyme scheme of ABBACDCDEE in iambic tetrameter, with option of extra beats in the last lines. I tucked in a tribute to our flag, too!)  Thanks to Kelly for the challenge.

***Edited to add:  Okay, it turns out I messed up BOTH the rhyme scheme (should be CDDC in the middle) and the fact that only the last line (not the last two) get extra beats.  Um...I was being as subversive as Aphra Behn?  We'll go with that.

You can find my Poetry Sisters better efforts to echo Aphra Behn's rhythm and form here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by one of our own, Tricia, at The Miss Rumphius Effect.


  1. I like this fresh take, Sara!

  2. I like that "day unwreathed in stars" though guess I wouldn't have understood without your explanation. Thanks for that and for the celebration of newspapers and independence!

  3. This actually gives me shivers... I think because it makes me think HOW MUCH of history is like this. Unsung, but valid and important and deeply felt. Thank you for this. I love it....

  4. I love this poem so much. And I vote for subversion!

  5. Oh, subversion works on every level. And I love this topically and rhythmically - by word, by word, by word. It's reminiscent of June 19th - by word, by word, by word, other news was passed, freedman to slave, and on and on... like watching a chemical reaction, a change from slave to free to slave to free...

  6. when broadsides were read
To mothers of boys not yet dead - whoo. Really hits me in the gut. This also made me think of how few pieces of news (or art or anything else) are really noticed. Our capacity to hold so much horror or so much beauty is limited, I guess. But we miss out on so much. Thanks for this, Sara!

  7. I love how you captured the Fourth through the lens of the Sixth.

  8. I spent Monday (July 2nd) teaching a class on teaching civics and we spent a lot of time talking about the Declaration and the Dunlap Broadsides, so I adore this poem for that reason (and many others).

    I love the last two lines, and they're perfect, so it really seems inconsequential that you haven't followed the rules.

    Here's to your poem, and "a day unwreathed in stars." Lovely poem.

  9. An eloquent tribute! Especially at a time when so many people question the truth of what they read.

  10. Also intrigued and sobered by the way this reminds us of all the news, the facts about our history that aren't written down, go uncelebrated, are left out of the narrative. Nice idea, nice execution:
    spotty ink to stripe the white
    Unsteady page, declaring rent

    A union; dead a peace; by right
A nation born


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