I teach an “Introduction to Research and Creative Work” class in the Honors Program at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Recently, I had my students (more than half local, with the rest from Alaska, Colorado, California, Idaho and Washington) read Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 2007 “Pity the Nation,” which is an update of Khalil Gibran’s 1933 poem of the same name.

One of the lessons I try to impart is that research done in an ivory tower is of little use unless it also connects to the world we live in, addresses real human needs, and is accessible. We talk often about what it means in practical terms to “live the examined life.”

After some class discussion, as a creative exercise, I asked each of them to do what Ferlinghetti had done to the Gibran poem: reimagine the poem by adding  a couple of lines from any perspective.

Dawn Morais Webster’s class in the Honors Program at the University of Hawaii Manoa. Courtesy

They did so, and those lines cobbled together, ending with the couplet from the Ferlinghetti poem, give us some sense of the disquiet among this group of millennials.

To me at least, their lines resonate with an awareness of the peril our body politic is in.

The students are Kelsey Ann Kimura, Ila Ferris, Samantha Darin, Jorj Christian Caguioa, Kayleen Fukushima, Rayna McClintock, Carleen Mandell,Sarah Igarashi, Nikki Hannah Cablay, Su Gyeong Kim, Haylee Fujioka, Skylar Haynes and Tehya Nichols.

Here is the poem:

Pity the people who reap from their land,
Watching flames and flood cover the ground.
Pity the people’s ignorant trust in their rulers
Relying on them for their children’s futures.
Pity the nation that does not help another,
Who would rather see their friends suffer.

Pity the nation where oblivion overcomes,
And living the examined life is of no concern.
Pity the nation that condemns foreign regimes
While blind to its own bureaucratic war
And democratic genocide on its own land.
Pity the nation that does not vote
Ignoring the nation’s failures and sufferings.

Pity the nation where voices of truth
Fall on ignorant ears.
Pity the nation whose people do not vote
At a time when their votes are needed the most.
Pity the nation who believes a man, not a woman,
Just because he is a man.
Pity the nation that abuses its women, endangering
Them, while upholding the patriarchal order.
Pity the nation that defines fairness
By saying boys will be boys,
While shortchanging women.

Pity the nation that grieves for the famed
While virtue warrants no sympathy;
And lights no candle for the unrenowned.
Pity the nation that discriminates
Against its own people
And doesn’t let newcomers in.
Pity the nation that has incapable rulers
Too ignorant and proud
To protect their own citizens.
Pity the nation divided by its parties
Not brought together by its suffering.
Pity the nation that is blind:
That covers their eyes with their palms
And claims there is no sky.

My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!

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