June 29, 2018

Pity The Nation

Things have been going sideways on our little planet for a very long time. Through it all, the poets have been trying to warn us. Had we been listening, we might have avoided a lot of hardship.

Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran wrote the following poem, called "Pity The Nation":

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero,
and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

Pity a nation that despises a passion in its dream,
yet submits in its awakening.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice
save when it walks in a funeral,
boasts not except among its ruins,
and will rebel not save when its neck is laid
between the sword and the block.

Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,
whose philosopher is a juggler,
and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.

Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting,
and farewells him with hooting,
only to welcome another with trumpeting again.

Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years,
and whose strong men are yet in the cradle.
Pity the nation divided into fragments,
each fragment deeming itself a nation.”

It is said that the poem is about Pakistan, but Gibran did not consider himself to be a member of any particular country, saying "the whole earth is my homeland and all men are my fellow countrymen". 

Therefore, this poem could refer to any country, and today it applies to many, perhaps even my own.

Gibran is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao Tzu, so it is no surprise that his work would influence other people, and other poets.

Rebel American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti was one such poet, and wrote the following poem in 2007 after Gibran. It is also called "Pity The Nation", and it is specifically about the USA, although again, it could apply to any country.

Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.

Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,

and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero, 

and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.

Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own and no other culture but its own.

Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.

Pity the nation — oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode,

and their freedoms to be washed away.

My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.

Ferlinghetti's next book will be published in the spring of 2019, on his 100th birthday.

Pity the nation that doesn't heed the warnings of its poets.


  1. Both poems are very powerful, thank you for sharing them. Pity the nation, indeed. Many of us are awake, but we need more!

  2. Anonymous3/01/2024

    Except that Kahlil Gibran didn’t write this in 1934, since he died in 1931. Otherwise carry on, crediting him posthumously.

    1. Anonymous3/04/2024

      Oops. Thanks.

      - Gregg


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