Back in the days before television, computers and iPods - or any other device which made spectators of us all - people amused themselves by reading, painting, making music and performing by reciting poems and speeches. Children were expected to be able to memorize a poem - even a long one - and recite it, complete with correct intonation, as well as the proper gestures.
In 1910, when she was 11-years-old, my grandmother received for Christmas a newly-published book of stories, speeches and poems of the last century entitled The New American Speaker. Besides selections for every holiday, including Washington's Birthday, there were readings categorized as patriotic, religious, humorous, and one called "temperance." We're not talking self-control, we're talking about the evils of demon rum. In any event, I don't know whether she ever performed any of the selections - or even read the book - but it has survived and has been in my possession for years.
Many of the items in the book may be considered corny by today's standards, but it's interesting to look back on a time when we didn't have to be as wary about our displays of patriotism, religion in the public square or celebrations of holidays. Here are two poems about Thanksgiving. The first is by Griswold North, about whom I know nothing and the other is by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who is, well, Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Emerson especially might make a nice thing to read around the dinner table before everyone begins the feeding frenzy.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
The Puritans' Thanksgiving by Griswold North
They thanked their God because once more
The fevered death had passed them by;
Though still it lurked behind the door.
They thanked their God that from on high
Had come abundant food and drink;
Their sunken faces gave the lie.
They thanked their God with tears to think
The perils of the night grew less;
And fierce eyes watched them at the chink.
They thanked their God and begged him bless
Their scanty lands, and ease their care.
And we who hold the answered prayer -
We keep the name of thankfulness.
We Thank Thee by Ralph Waldo Emerson
For flowers that bloom about our feet;
For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;
For song of bird, and hum of bee;
For all things fair we hear or see,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee!
For blue of stream and blue of sky;
For pleasant shade of branches high;
For fragrant air and cooling breeze;
For beauty of the blooming trees,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee.