The Lowering

By May Swenson 1913–1989 May Swenson
The flag is folded
lengthwise, and lengthwise again,   
folding toward the open edge,
so that the union of stars on the blue   
field remains outward in full view;   
a triangular folding is then begun   
at the striped end,
by bringing the corner of the folded edge   
to the open edge;
the outer point, turned inward along the open edge,
forms the next triangular fold:
the folding continued so, until the end is reached,
the final corner tucked between   
the folds of the blue union,
the form of the folded flag is found to resemble that
of a 3-cornered pouch, or thick cocked hat.

Take this flag, John Glenn, instead of a friend;
instead of a brother, Edward Kennedy, take this flag;   
instead of a father, Joe Kennedy, take this flag;
this flag instead of a husband, Ethel Kennedy, take this flag;   
this 9-times-folded red-white-striped, star-spotted-blue flag,   
tucked and pocketed neatly,
Nation, instead of a leader, take this folded flag.
Robert Kennedy, coffin without coverlet,
beside this hole in the grass,
beside your brother, John Kennedy,
in the grass,
take, instead of a country,
this folded flag;
Robert Kennedy, take this
hole in the grass.

NOTES: Arlington Cemetery
June 8, 1968

May Swenson, “The Lowering” from New and Selected Things Taking Place (Boston: Atlantic/Little Brown, 1978). Copyright © 1978 by May Swenson. Reprinted with the permission of The Literary Estate of May Swenson.

Source: New and Selected Things Taking Place (Little Brown and Company, 1978)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet May Swenson 1913–1989

Subjects Heroes & Patriotism, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Social Commentaries, Death

Occasions Funerals

Holidays Independence Day

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 May  Swenson

Biography

During her prolific career, May Swenson received numerous literary awards and nominations for her poetry. Often experimental in both form and appearance, her poems earned her widespread critical acclaim. As Priscilla Long commented in the Women's Review of Books, "Swenson was a visionary poet, a prodigious observer of the fragile and miraculous natural world."

Swenson's poetry has been praised for its imagery, which is . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Heroes & Patriotism, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Social Commentaries, Death

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.