“The Documents”

In celebration of American Archives Month, the National Archives is teaming up with the Academy of American Poets. Throughout the month we’ll be publishing original poems inspired by the holdings of the National Archives. To view the poets performing their original work, visit the National Archives YouTube Channel. 

Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, 2014. <br> (Photo by Jeff Reed)
Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, 2014.
(Photo by Jeff Reed)

Today’s poem, “The Documents” by Terence Winch, was inspired by his visit to the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

The National Archives collects, preserves, and makes available the official documents created by the U.S. Government. These records help us claim our rights and entitlements as citizens; they help us hold our elected officials accountable for their actions; and they help document our history as a nation.

The National Archives Museum offers visitors many opportunities to view and interpret our government’s records.

In the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, visitors can be inspired by our nation’s founding documents—the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights, which are on permanent display.

In the Rubenstein Gallery, visitors can explore the “Records of Rights” exhibit to learn how Americans sought to fulfill the promises our founding documents or see a rare copy of the Magna Carta.

Or, walk through the Public Vaults exhibit for a behind-the-scenes look at the original documents housed in stacks and vaults of the National Archives.

Not in Washington? The National Archives has over 40 locations nationwide—visit our website to plan your trip.

The Documents

By Terence Winch

The Documents are weeping, fading,
fearing the worst.

They are the messages
that keep coming.
They are promises, dreams, hymns,
i.o.u.’s. Proclamations.

They are word-flags.
security blankets.

You could wrap yourself
in their giant pages.

They want to tell us who we are
or who we should want to be.

They are sails made of speech.

You could navigate
the vessel of your inner life
with their words propelling you along to the horizon.

The Documents tell their stories
over and over, even when you’re asleep,
even when the dark government temple
where they are entombed has shut
down for the night. The Documents never
tire, never shut down. They never expire.

They keep up their endless arguments,
hoping to be heard. Take heart, they insist.
Resist your worst impulses. Fight on,
even against invincible power. Listen
to what we have to tell you, they say, ancient,
faint, yet stronger than a wall ten miles thick.

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