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On the Death of Dr. Benjamin Franklin

THUS, some tall tree that long hath stood
The glory of its native wood,
By storms destroyed, or length of years,
Demands the tribute of our tears.

The pile, that took long time to raise,
To dust returns by slow decays:
But, when its destined years are o'er,
We must regret the loss the more.

So long accustomed to your aid,
The world laments your exit made;
So long befriended by your art,
Philosopher, 'tis hard to part!--

When monarchs tumble to the ground,
Successors easily are found:
But, matchless FRANKLIN ! what a few
Can hope to rival such as YOU,
Who seized from kings their sceptered pride,
And turned the lightning darts aside.

Philip Freneau (1752 - 1832)

This is poetry that mattered in times when poetry was taken seriously, when writing hymns, anthems, marching songs, odes on important occasions, were honored by national and regional audiences. Philip Freneau's On the Death of Dr. Benjamin Franklin was published around 1790 and typifies this "cultural work" that poets tried to do from colonial times to the close of the nineteenth century where this was the kind of work expected of them. The high esteem and Benjamin Franklin's accomplishments of his day cannot set too high a value on in the early years of the United States. Though somewhat faded today, his deeds were sharp in the minds of Americans in 1790. To get an idea of what the poet was trying to do think about what Franklin had accomplished in his lifetime:

"The poet of the American Revolution" Philip Freneau also commanded a privateer in the American service; an armed private ship licensed to intercept and harass an enemy ship. Commissioned as such he equipped and received payment from the booty, but he suffered bad luck as a captain and spent most of the Revolutionary War in a British naval prison.


Benjamin Franklin:
Accessed May 25 2001

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:
Accessed May 25 2001

CST Approved

Here’s what Benjamin Franklin had to say about his own demise when he composed the following epitaph about himself at the tender age of 22.

The Body of
B. Franklin
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be wholly lost:
For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more,
In a new and more perfect Edition,
Corrected and Amended
By the Author.
He was born on January 6, 1706
He died 17--

Too bad he didn’t use it though, his gravestone simply reads:

Benjamin and Deborah Franklin - 1790

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