African American Poetry (1870-1926): A Digital Anthology

Edwin Garnett Riley, "A Nation's Greatness" (1920)

What makes a nation truly great? 
Not strength of arms, nor men of state,
Nor vast domains, by conquest won,
That knew not rise nor set of sun;
Nor sophist's schools, nor learned clan,
Nor laws that bind the will of man,--
For these have proved, in ages past,
But futile dreams that could not last;
And they that boast of such today,
Are fallen, vanquished in the fray,
Their glory mingled with the dust,
Their archives stained with crime and lust;
And all that breathed of pomp and pride,
Like the untimely fig, has died.
On thing, alone, restrains, exalts
A nation and corrects its faults;
One thin, alone, its life can crown
And give its destiny renown.
That nation, then, is truly great,
That lives by love, and not by hate;
That bends beneath the chastening rod,
That owns the truth, and looks to God! 

Published inThe Crisis, March 1920

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