We Come to Pay Our Thanks to Thee

Norman Rockwell, "Refugee Thanksgiving"

Norman Rockwell, “Refugee Thanksgiving” (1943)


Here’s a lovely Thanksgiving poem by the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. I am celebrating Thanksgiving this year with my mother for the first time in decades and I fully expected to be wafted into the past. That’s because friends who have been celebrating Thanksgiving with our family for close to sixty years will be gathering at our table.

When my parents moved to Sewanee in 1954, they began celebrating Thanksgiving with two other University of the South families, the Goodsteins (Marvin taught Economics, Nita History) and the Degans (Bob taught Economics). Marvin died last year and Eileen Degan died this past year, leaving only my mother. But the two “Degan girls” will be coming over for the dinner, as will Eban and Sarah Goodstein. The tradition continues on.

Sadly, my son Toby and his daughters will have to skip the occasion, even though he is only three hours away in Atlanta. But his dissertation must be submitted next week and every minute counts. We consider this a sufficient excuse.

Among the things I am thankful for is that my other son, Darien, was not badly hurt when he was run off the road by a car as he was bicycling to work. When he was a child I used to caution him about where he could ride his bicycle so, again, I am having feelings of déjà vu.

Julia is in Iowa with her mother but will be joining us down here in 10 days. And there’s always Skype. So Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

A Thanksgiving Poem

By Paul Laurence Dunbar

The sun hath shed its kindly light,
Our harvesting is gladly o’er,
Our fields have felt no killing blight,
Our bins are filled with goodly store.

From pestilence, fire, flood, and sword
We have been spared by thy decree,
And now with humble hearts, O Lord,
We come to pay our thanks to thee.

We feel that had our merits been
The measure of thy gifts to us,
We erring children, born of sin,
Might not now be rejoicing thus.

No deed of ours hath brought us grace;
When thou wert nigh our sight was dull,
We hid in trembling from thy face,
But thou, O God, wert merciful.

Thy mighty hand o’er all the land
Hath still been open to bestow
Those blessings which our wants demand
From heaven, whence all blessings flow.

Thou hast, with ever watchful eye,
Looked down on us with holy care,
And from thy storehouse in the sky
Hast scattered plenty everywhere.

Then lift we up our songs of praise
To thee, O Father, good and kind;
To thee we consecrate our days;
Be thine the temple of each mind.

With incense sweet our thanks ascend;
Before thy works our powers pall;
Though we should strive years without end,
We could not thank thee for them all.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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