Cleaveland: A poet's tribute to Memorial Day

Cleaveland: A poet's tribute to Memorial Day

May 22nd, 2014 by By Dr. Clif Cleaveland in Life Entertainment

Dr. Clif Cleaveland

Dr. Clif Cleaveland

Memorial Day will be observed on Monday. The significance of the observance will be diluted by competing sales promotions and leisure pursuits for the extended holiday weekend.

A reader called to my attention a poem by Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982), written while he was serving as Librarian for Congress. After I encountered the poem years ago in college, it dropped from memory. This masterpiece captures the essence of what Memorial Day is all about.

MacLeish had served as an ambulance driver and artillery officer in World War I. His post-war years included law school, a lengthy stay in Paris and appointment by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to revitalize a disorganized Library of Congress. During World War II, he served in the Research and Analysis Branch of the Office of Strategic Services. Post-war, MacLeish assumed a distinguished professorship at Harvard. He was awarded three Pulitzer Prizes, two for poetry, one for drama.

Find a quiet place and read his tribute on Memorial Day.


The young dead soldiers do not speak.

Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:

Who has not heard them?

They have a silence that speaks for them at night

and when the clock counts.

They say: We were young. We have died.

Remember us.

They say: We have done what we could

but until it is finished it is not done.

They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished

no one can know what our lives gave.

They say: our deaths are not ours: they are yours,

They will mean what you make them.

They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for

peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,

It is you who must say this.

We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.

We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.

Contact Clif Cleaveland at