A Nation’s Greatness

by Edwin G. Riley

What makes a nation truly great?
Not strength of arms, nor men of state,
Nor vast domains, by conquest won,
That knew not rise nor set of sun;
Nor sophist’s schools, nor learned clan,
Nor laws that bind the will of man,—
For these have proved, in ages past,
But futile dreams that could not last;
And they that boast of such today,
Are fallen, vanquished in the fray,
Their glory mingled with the dust,
Their archives stained with crime and lust;
And all that breathed of pomp and pride,
Like the untimely fig, has died.
One thing, alone, restrains, exalts
A nation and corrects its faults;
One thing, alone, its life can crown
And give its destiny renown.
That nation, then, is truly great,
That lives by love, and not by hate;
That bends beneath the chastening rod,
That owns the truth, and looks to God!

From Crisis magazine, March 1920. The poem also appeared in the anthology Negro Poets and Their Poems (1923), edited by Robert T. Kerlin.