Poetry Friday: Seeger Said “Sing All the Verses” -This Land is Your Land

January 30, 2014 — 4 Comments

Screenshot 2014-01-31 07.06.53Pete Seeger was a collaborator. Someone acting with others to achieve a goal.

He collaborated in songwriting. The song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” was written with Joe Hickerson, “If I Had a Hammer” was written with Lee Hays of the Weavers, and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was written with a little help from the Old Testament (Ecclesiastics).

He collaborated in performances with other singers: Dylan, Cash, Baez, and frequently with Woody Guthrie. He was a relentless promoter of Guthrie’s music as a tool for social change. His dedication was illustrated in a story told by Bruce Springsteen in a speech at the South By Southwest Festival in 2012. (Read entire speech at SpringsteenKeynoteNPRTranscript)

Springsteen recalled performing with Seeger on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the inauguration celebration for President Obama. He recalled the power of singing Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” with Seeger that day:

“So four years ago, I found myself in an unusual situation. It was a cold winter day. I was standing alongside of Pete Seeger. It was 25 degrees. Pete had come to Washington. Pete carries a banjo everywhere he goes — the subway, the bus — and comes out in his shirt. I said, “Man, Pete, put on a jacket. It’s freezing out here.” He’s ninety years old — living embodiment of Woody’s legacy.

“There were several hundred thousand of our fellow citizens in front of us. We had the Lincoln Memorial behind us, and a newly-elected president to our right. We were going to sing, “This Land is Your Land” in front of all these Americans. And Pete insisted — he says, “No, we have to sing all the verses. We have to sing all the verses, man. You can’t leave any of them out.”

“I said, ‘I don’t know, Pete.’ We had a crowd of six-year-old school kids behind us. He says, “No, we’re all gonna sing all the verses.” And so we got to it.

At this point in the speech, Springsteen picked up the guitar and began singing: “This Land Is Your Land”

As I was walking I saw a sign there
And on that sign said We’re trespassing
And on the other side It didn’t say nothing.
That side was made For you and me.
This land is your land This land is my land 

He paused to admonish the crowd, “This song is meant to be sung by everybody.” They began to join him:

From California To the New York island
From the Redwood Forest
To the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Springsteen concluded playing and explained to the crowd:

On that day Pete and myself, and generations of young and old Americans — all colors, religious beliefs — I realized that sometimes things that come from the outside, they make their way in, to become a part of the beating heart of the nation. On that day, when we sung that song, Americans — young and old, black and white, of all religious and political beliefs — were united, for a brief moment, by Woody’s poetry.

Woody’s poetry is American poetry, and Pete Seeger was his American troubadour. Listen:

As a collaborator, Seeger worked with others on many causes: workers’ rights, civil rights, environmental conservation, and world peace. In supporting these causes, he encouraged all others to sing along.
So, here are the words Seeger promoted; the words to Guthrie’s contribution to the American Songbook, the words to “This Land is Your Land.”
Feel free to hum along as you read:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Thank you, Pete Seeger, for reminding us to sing about America and to sing ALL the verses.

This week’s Poetry Friday is at The Miss Rumphius Effect Thanks for hosting!

4 responses to Poetry Friday: Seeger Said “Sing All the Verses” -This Land is Your Land

  1. 

    I’ve always thought of those left out words when I hear this song sung elsewhere – in many ways, that’s the heart of it, for me. This land is OUR land – we are inclusive! So sad about Pete’s passing. He was one of a kind.

  2. 

    ALL the people…ALL the verses. Powerful.

  3. 

    I always loved singing that song as a kid.

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