Today’s Grant memorial poem comes from the August 4, 1885, edition of the Albany Evening Journal, where it appeared on page 2. Written the previous day as an original piece for the paper, the poem ponders the nature of greatness.
Ironically, I saw today on my quote-a-day calendar a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower that spoke to this very topic. “The qualities of a great man,” Ike said, “are vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the power of articulation, and profundity of character.”
I put the question to my son, Jackson, who’s been serving as my office assistant this summer. He’s the one who’s been typing up all these memorial poems that I’ve found. “What makes ‘greatness,’” I asked him.
“You,” he said, sucking up. We laughed.
“Just kidding,” he added. “Really, it’s Mom.”
Jackson then gave the question more serious consideration. “Sincerity in thoughts and actions,” he said. “Not being senselessly violent toward each other.”
I had him at a disadvantage, he admitted, because I was asking him to generalize on the spot. “Do you think Grant was a ‘Great Man’?” he asked.
“He saved the country,” I said. “That’s no small thing. That qualifies him for ‘Great Man’ status in my book.”
What is greatness? Not to wield
The conquering sword on gory field;
Nor yet to have the trump of fame
Down endless ages sound one’s name;
Nor fawning fools one’s praises chant
For gilded favors wealth may grant;
Nor achieve a wide renown;
Nor wear the purple robe and crown
For man has won by valorous arm
The victor’s globe, the crown and palm;
And man the heights of fame has trod,
And wealth has fashioned him a god;
And he has reached a king’s estate,
But rare, for all, has man been great.
That man is great, wherever his sphere,
Whose acts and motives are sincere,
Disdaining thoughts of fame or pelf,
He moves without the orb of self,
And lives but for the common good –
The universal brotherhood.
His was no glowing path of art;
His not to play life’s pleasing part;
His but to go where duty led;
His was a stubborn path to tread;
His but to do the patriot’s deed –
To serve his country in her need.
His duty well performed, he rests,
Within his country’s arms caressed.
And reverently there moves the slow,
Sad pageant of a nation’s woe;
While lovingly the soldier brave,
His foeman bear unto the grave;
And on the hero’s lingering bier
The world, adoring, drops a tear.
And he was truly great, indeed,
His duty was his only creed;
That being known, he never quailed,
Though shot and shell around him hailed.
He lived unto a noble end,
And died with all the world his friend.