Songs For The People

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper lived an extraordinary life during extraordinary times. Born in Baltimore in September 24, 1824 and orphaned at an early age, she was destined to become a prominent abolitionist, temperance and women’s suffrage activist. She used poetry to advocate for a compassionate society.

“Songs for the People” speaks of embracing a spirit of kindness and hope for others when we face seemingly overwhelming challenges. Her words are not spoken with sentimentality, but with power and authority that resonate in our current reality.

As Frances Ellen Watkins Harper wrote many decades ago, “We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul.”


Songs For The People

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.

Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life.

Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life's fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.

Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o'er life's highway.

I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.

Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.

Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.


This poem is in the public domain.
Should I Be Worried? By Justin Langlios
This public artwork was produced by local artist Justin Langlois as part of the City’s first Artist-in-Residence program. Since mid-2016, Justin has been working with the Sustainability Group, learning about the various initiatives and themes that shape the Greenest City Action Plan and contributing to ideas and opportunities for greater engagement. The work produced aims to open up an ongoing dialogue about social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

This project is supported by the City of Vancouver through the Public Art Program and the Sustainability Group with assistance from Engineering Services, Utilities, Streets and Electrical Design and Operations.

City of Vancouver

46 Thoughts

    1. I am so glad that you headed over to Vancouver to join me on the Seawall. When I was recording the poem, a passerby stopped to tell me not to worry – that everything would be okay. My exploration into the poetry of the Victorian era and early 1900’s has been exciting because I am discovering amazing men and women who changed the course of their history. It is a treasure hunt into the past!!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I delighted that you joined me on the SeaWall, Shey. What I especially appreciated about Frances Ellen Watkins Harper is her involvement in creating a more compassionate society. She leads the song and inspires others to form the choir. I love being in a choir that supports and encourages each other. Sending hugs!!!

      Liked by 3 people

  1. It is a great song that we need today, all of us. And music is a great help for overcoming these hard times. Somehow, it reminds me of this poem which you surely know;

    For Whom the Bell Tolls
    by
    John Donne

    “No man is an island,
    Entire of itself.
    Each is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thine own
    Or of thine friend’s were.
    Each man’s death diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee.”

    Be safe and well, dearest Rebecca.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much for adding John Donne’s poem “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Very much appreciated!! My favourite line is “For I am involved in mankind.” I get goosebumps every time I read that poem. We are active participants in a huge narrative that overcomes the barriers time and space. “We are involved….”

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for joining me on the Vancouver Seawall. Did you hear the crows in the background? This is the time that all gather together to organize the flight back to their roost in Burnaby – they are 6,000 strong that make this journey from all over Vancouver. I have enjoyed going back into time to read poets that lived a century ago and compare their insights with poetry of today. There has been an interesting evolution of how to express the need for change. I am enjoying this exploration, which has influenced my thinking about engaging within a society transformed by technology. Without technology, I would never have found Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. I happened upon this short article that dates back to 2018 – I think you would be interested in reading. https://msmagazine.com/2018/04/30/five-feminist-poems-for-national-poetry-month-5-songs-for-the-people-by-frances-ellen-watkins-harper/

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Sally for joining me on the Vancouver Seawall. I have been looking back into public domain poetry over the past year. It has been an amazing journey into the past. Poetry flows over time barriers, doesn’t it?

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Sylvia for your lovely comments – you are a wonderful encouragement to me. I have been going back into public domain poetry to explore how words have transformed our cultural ideas and values. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was a catalyst for change – she worked tirelessly for justice and equality. As I read her poetry, I realize that we do indeed stand on the shoulders of giants as we continue the work of creating positive outcomes for all. Sending many hugs!!!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Liz! I enjoyed reading the background on Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. She was devoted to the antislavery cause. Her uncle was an abolitionist, who introduced her to William and Letitia George. William became known as the father of the Underground Railroad while he was an office clerk and janitor in the office of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. When I think of the Underground Railroad I always think of Harriet Tubman, but there were many more involved in this cause. I continue to learn and learn and learn. So many marvelous stories hidden in the folds of history.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re welcome, Rebecca! My brother rented an old house in Rhode Island that had been a stop on the Underground Railroad. (Full disclosure: For the longest time, I thought the Underground Railroad was an actual railroad that ran underground, like a subway.)

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I am delighted that you joined me on the Seawall. I am looking back into public domain poetry and discovery amazing poets who I have never heard about before. I continue to learn and learn and learn!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I love and look forward to your walks along the Vancouver Sea wall. This one is especially thought provoking. The poet started life early alone, perhaps this was instrumental in giving her vision to help and encourage others along their way. The poem is, without doubt, inspired and uses words and thoughts to bless us who read it (more than once! Thank you for sharing this lovely poem! !

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for adding to this conversation, Frances. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper had an extraordinary start in life. After the death of her parents when she was 3 years old, she was raised by her aunt and uncle. Her uncle was an outspoken abolitionist who established his own school in 1820. I believe this foundation in advocacy and education was an ongoing influence in her life. I am delighted that you joined me on the Seawall.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, the death of her parents at such an early age must have effected her life very much. The life and influence of her Uncle must have changed her outlook on life and must have given her encouragement for further education and helpful energy to pass on to others.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. This is a lovely reading, Rebecca!
    I hadn’t heard of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, but I did notice your mom shares her first name!
    ‘Tis an old, yet timely poem, filled with wisdom.
    Now, if we can finally get that girdle on!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Humanity’s struggle is definitely a girdle.
        Most men have never worn one. It’s going to be a struggle.
        LOL.. when I was like…10, my mom bought me a training girdle.
        She said if I was ever to catch a good husband, I’d learn to wear a girdle, a bra and walk in high heels.
        I chucked the girdle and bra. However, in my mid 20’s I began a fascination with heels.
        Although my days of running for the bus in heels are long gone, I still hold a fascination for them.
        There’s a fab book – pictures and history – “Cinderella’s Revenge”.
        If Dave ever does a post about High Heels in novels, I might be able to make a decent comment. Although, I suppose my books are research and not novels.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I found Cinderella’s Revenge on Amazon.ca. If you have a copy, Resa, KEEP IT!! There is only one new paperback copy left on Amazon.ca and it is $229.00 plus shipping. For a used paperback the cost is $63.00. It looks like a great book. Putting on a girdle was exercise. YIKES! Love your mom!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. What an amazing poem and so beautifully read on Vancouver Sea Wall, on a Sunday afternoon. I love the peaceful background and the beautiful music too. Thank you, dear Rebecca. You take care too now. Bless you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am delighted that you joined me on the Vancouver Seawall. I love our conversations. I am comforted by the knowledge that we can share our places in a virtual world. I miss travel, but I have found that travel can happen from my kitchen table. Sending hugs!!!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. The dire warning of Harper’s initial quote seems in such contrast to her uplifting and empathetic Song for the People. And what’s interesting is they’re both a true expression for different audiences, I suppose. Two sides of the same coin. Lovely to listen to you, Rebecca. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am delighted that you joined me on the Seawall, Diana. Going back into poetry from the past has been an extraordinary journey for me. Poetry of the early 1900’s articulated advocacy in themes of encouragement, but it was hard-hitting. Think of “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes. I agree – “two side of the same coin.”

      Liked by 2 people

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