The Flag Goes By

Henry Holcomb Bennett

‘The Flag Goes By’ by Henry Holcomb Bennett is a patriotic American poem that focuses on the symbolism of the American flag. It encourages those reading to respect the flag as a symbol. 


This easy-to-read poem reminds readers of all that a simple symbol can represent. In this case--the American flag

The poem was written by American journalist and poet Henry Holcomb Bennet. The text is quite simple, using easy-to-read language and syntax, meaning that most readers who come upon it are going to have an easy time deciphering the poet’s meaning. This makes a great deal of sense, considering the subject matter. If the poet wanted to unite those reading the poem with a common purpose, it was important that the purpose (respecting and honoring the American flag) was very clearly described. 

The Flag Goes By
Henry Holcomb Bennet

Hats off!Along the street there comesA blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,A dash of color beneath the sky:Hats off!The flag is passing by!

Blue and crimson and white it shines,Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines.Hats off!The colors before us fly;But more than the flag is passing by.

Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great,Fought to make and to save the State:Weary marches and sinking ships;Cheers of victory on dying lips;

Days of plenty and years of peace;March of a strong land's swift increase;Equal justice, right and law,Stately honor and reverend awe;

Sign of a nation, great and strongTo ward her people from foreign wrong:Pride and glory and honor,--allLive in the colors to stand or fall.

Hats off!Along the street there comesA blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums;And loyal hearts are beating high:Hats off!The flag is passing by!
The Flag Goes By by Henry Holcomb Bennett


‘The Flag Goes By’ by Henry Holcomb Bennett is a simple, patriotic poem about the importance of respecting the American flag. 

The poem begins with the speaker telling anyone in his vicinity that they need to take their hats off as the American flag is passing. This is an image that’s repeated several times in the text. The bulk of the poem is dedicated to describing how the flag is more than a flag; it symbolizes something else entirely. It represents all the sacrifices that the American people have made in times of war and peace, as well as equal justice, rights, and laws. It’s important, the speaker concludes, to honor sacrifices and the country’s future. 

Structure and Form 

‘The Flag Goes By’ by Henry Holcomb Bennett is a six-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four, five, and six lines. The first stanza contains six lines, the second: five, the third: four, the fourth: four, the fifth: four, and the sixth stanza has six lines. The poem follows a few different rhyme schemes. For example, stanza one rhymes ABBCAC, and stanza two rhymes: AABCC. There are several examples of repetition in this poem, including the use of the phrase “Hats off!” multiple times. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of a few literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Symbolism: symbolism is a very important literary device in this poem; it is seen through the amount of meaning that the poet placed on the American flag. 
  • Repetition: repetition, specific examples of a refrain, is used throughout this poem. The line “Hats off!” is repeated five times in the poem. 
  • Personification: the use of human-specific descriptions to depict something that’s non-human. For example, “To ward her people from foreign wrong” and “a nation, great and strong.” 

Detailed Analysis 

Stanzas One and Two

Hats off!

Along the street there comes

A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,

A dash of color beneath the sky:

Hats off!

The flag is passing by!

Blue and crimson and white it shines,

Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines.

Hats off!

The colors before us fly;

But more than the flag is passing by.

In the first stanza of ‘The Flag Goes By,’ the speaker begins by using the phrase “Hats off!” that’s repeated a few times throughout the poem. He’s directing his words at anyone nearby, telling them that the American flag is passing by and that, as a symbol of respect, they should take their hats off. The “flag is passing by,” the poet wrote. It is accompanied by the sound of bugles playing and drums pounding, adding to the prestigious feel of the moment. 

The flag shines “Blue and crimson and white,” the poet wrote. It flies high, looking down on the “ordered lines” of marching soldiers that are honoring it. The poet uses the phrase “Hats off!” Again, this time in the middle of the stanza. The speaker alludes that the reason it’s important to show respect to the American flag is that it is “more than the flag” that is passing by. The flag symbolizes other things. 

Stanzas Three and Four 

Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great,

Fought to make and to save the State:

Weary marches and sinking ships;

Cheers of victory on dying lips;

Days of plenty and years of peace;

March of a strong land’s swift increase;

Equal justice, right and law,

Stately honor and reverend awe;

The flag symbolizes the following, the speaker implies. All the sea and land fights that America has ever been involved with and the way that men and women have died bravely for the country. They have fought to save the “State” and continued in their duty till the bitter end.

The flag also symbolizes the years of peace and plenty that are hopefully in the country’s future, equal justice, “right and law.” These are all things that are deserving of people’s respect, the speaker thinks, and the reason why one should take their hat off when the flag passes by. 

Stanzas Five and Six 

Sign of a nation, great and strong

To ward her people from foreign wrong:

Pride and glory and honor,–all

Live in the colors to stand or fall.

Hats off!

Along the street there comes

A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums;

And loyal hearts are beating high:

Hats off!

The flag is passing by!

In the second to last stanza, the speaker adds that the flag is a “sign of a nation” that is great and strong. It is there to make sure the citizens of the country, or “her people” (meaning America’s people), do not do any wrong in the eyes of their country or “foreign wrong.” 

The final lines are fairly repetitive, reiterating what was already declared in the previous stanzas. The speaker says that the flag is passing by and adds that all those watching can feel their “loyal” hearts beating in time with the drums. 


What is the theme of ‘The Flag Goes By?’

The theme of ‘The Flag Goes By’ is patriotism, specifically American patriotism. The speaker is incredibly enthusiastic about the United States, the country’s history, and its people. This is seen through the powerful symbology the poet’ assigned the flag. 

What does the American flag symbolize in ‘The Flag Goes By?’

The American flag symbolizes times of war and the brave fighting that American citizens engaged in and the peace and prosperity that, the speaker hopes, is in the country’s future. It symbolizes all that has been lost and all that will come in the future. 

What is the message of ‘The Flag Goes By?’

The message of this poem is that it is important to respect the American flag and all that it symbolizes. One should honor their country and the sacrifices that its soldiers have made throughout time, the poet writes. 

What is the tone of ‘The Flag Goes By?’

The tone of ‘The Flag Goes By’ is reverential and passionate. The speaker is incredibly patriotic and demonstrates that throughout the six stanzas

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poetry. For example: 

  • America’ by Allen Ginsberg – deals with the turbulent times in America. It was written during and focused on the period after the Second World War.
  • Let America Be America Again’ by Langston Hughes – is concerned with the modern United States. Hughes discusses the nature of dreams and who gets to have them come true.
  • America’ by Claude McKay balances ideas of loving and hating the United States. McKay explores the good parts of the country, the strength and vigor it contains as well as the bad.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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