‘On the Building of Springfield’ (Vachel Lindsay)

Poet Vachel Lindsay was confounded — not to say obsessed — with his hometown of Springfield. Some of his best-known lines about the city are contained in his 1908 poem, “On the Building of Springfield.”

LET not our town be large—remembering
That little Athens was the Muses’ home;
That Oxford rules the heart of London still,
That Florence gave the Renaissance to Rome.

Record it for the grandson of your son—
A city is not builded in a day:
Our little town cannot complete her soul
Till countless generations pass away.

Now let each child be joined as to a church
To her perpetual hopes, each man ordained;
Let every street be made a reverent aisle
Where music grows, and beauty is unchained.

Let Science and Machinery and Trade
Be slaves of her, and make her all in all—
Building against our blatant restless time
An unseen, skillful, mediæval wall.

Let every citizen be rich toward God.
Let Christ, the beggar, teach divinity—
Let no man rule who holds his money dear.
Let this, our city, be our luxury.

We should build parks that students from afar
Would choose to starve in, rather than go home—
Fair little squares, with Phidian ornament—
Food for the spirit, milk and honeycomb.

Songs shall be sung by us in that good day—
Songs we have written—blood within the rhyme
Beating, as when old England still was glad,
The purple, rich, Elizabethan time.

Say, is my prophecy too fair and far?
I only know, unless her faith be high,
The soul of this our Nineveh is doomed,
Our little Babylon will surely die.

Some city on the breast of Illinois
No wiser and no better at the start,
By faith shall rise redeemed—by faith shall rise
Bearing the western glory in her heart—

The genius of the Maple, Elm and Oak,
The secret hidden in each grain of corn—
The glory that the prairie angels sing
At night when sons of Life and Love are born—

Born but to struggle, squalid and alone,
Broken and wandering in their early years.
When will they make our dusty streets their goal,
Within our attics hide their sacred tears?

When will they start our vulgar blood athrill
With living language—words that set us free?
When will they make a path of beauty clear
Between our riches and our liberty?

We must have many Lincoln-hearted men—
A city is not builded in a day—
And they must do their work, and come and go
While countless generations pass away.

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