This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie

‘This Land Is Your Land’ is one of the famous folk songs of America. Woody Guthrie wrote this song in response to ‘God Bless America’ by Irving Berlin.

‘This Land Is Your Land’ is a famous American folk song written by Woody Guthrie. Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie (1912-1967) was one of the most famous singer-songwriters in American western folk music. His folk song, ‘This Land Is Your Land’ is a source of inspiration for many generations. There are several variations of the song. The original composition of 1940 contains six verses with the refrain, “God blessed America for me.” Whereas, the later lyrics of the song contain seven verses and Guthrie changed the refrain to, “This land was made for you and me.” Here, the analysis is based on this version of the song.

This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie

 

Summary of This Land Is Your Land

‘This Land Is Your Land’ by Woody Guthrie is an American folk song that says America belongs to everyone residing there.

At the beginning of the song, the speaker says the land of America is for everyone. From California to the New York island and from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream, America belongs to the speaker as well as other Americans. As the speaker was walking on the highways of his country he saw the endless skyway and the golden valley. He saw the wheat fields and the dust clouds. Moreover, once he saw a sign saying, “No Trespassing” somewhere. But the other side of the signboard had nothing written on it. On that side what remained belonged to the Americans and everything described in the song. However, the sight of hungry people made the speaker doubtful about the land which was once made for everyone. Lastly, the poet proclaims that nothing can take his country away from him.

You can read the full lyrics here.

 

Structure

‘This Land Is Your Land’ composed by Woody Guthrie consists of seven verses. Each verse contains four lines in it. There isn’t any specific rhyme scheme in this song. However, most of the lines of the song have a regular rhyming pattern. As an example, in the second stanza, the first two lines and the last two lines rhyme together. Apart from that, the lines of each verse are composed of iambs or a foot containing an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. The refrain used in this song, “This land was made for you and me” is in iambic tetrameter.

 

Literary Devices

There are several literary devices in this lyric. The song begins with a repetition of “This land” and the following two lines of the first verse contain anaphora. There is a refrain at the end of each stanza that is meant for emphasizing the idea of the line. Thereafter, in “ribbon of highway” the writer uses a metaphor. The “golden valley” also contains a metaphor. In the third verse, the first line contains an alliteration in “roamed and rambled” as well as in “followed my footsteps”. Here, Guthrie uses another literary device called polysyndeton. Thereafter, he presents a personification in the line, “To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts”. Apart from that, there is irony in the line, “But on the other side it didn’t say nothing”. However, the writer also uses metonymy and rhetorical question in this song.

 

Analysis of This Land Is Your Land

Verse One

This land is your land, this land is my land

(…)

This land was made for you and me.

Verse one of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ begins with the main idea of the poem. According to Woody Guthrie, this is his country as well as others. Here, the lyricist directly addresses the reader as if he is talking with them. Thereafter, he refers to California and the New York island. It is meant for illustrating the fact that from the west to the east this land is meant for the people. The reference to the redwood forest and the Gulf Stream waters also refer to this fact. At last, the poet firmly says that the land was made for the people. So, it’s their right to live in the land and protest when anything is going wrong.

 

Verse Two

As I was walking that ribbon of highway

(…)

This land was made for you and me.

From the second verse, the lyricist goes on to depict a variety of places in his country. The speaker of this verse, while walking on the “ribbon of highway” saw the endless sky above. He looked below and there was the “golden valley”. The sunlight is the cause of the valley’s golden color. Whereas, the “ribbon of highway” is the ribbon-like formation of highways. These are meant for the citizens of America and the poet as well.

 

Verse Three

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps

(…)

This land was made for you and me.

While roaming and rambling across the land, sometimes he followed his footsteps on the sparkling sands of the deserts. Here, the poet uses a metaphor of diamond to depict the shine of the sands in sunlight. When he roamed there, he heard a voice. From where the sounds came from, it’s not clear. One can say that it was his inner voice. The voice reminded him that the land was made for him and others.

 

Verse Four

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,

(…)

This land was made for you and me.

In verse four of ‘This Land Is Your Land’, the speaker says he was strolling one day under the shining sun. Then he saw the wheat fields of his country waving delicately. The dust cloud rolled above him. As the fog around him was lifting, he heard the same voice again. That time, the voice had a chanting quality as if the refrain, “This land was made for you and me” was a part of the divine order. For a citizen like a poet, rights are no lesser than that in a free and liberal country.

 

Verse Five

As I went walking I saw a sign there,

(…)

That side was made for you and me.

Thereafter, the speaker says as he went walking he saw a sign somewhere. The sign said, “No Trespassing”. Here, the poet alludes to the right to property. However, ironically, the speaker says, “But on the other side it didn’t say nothing.” That side was made for him and others. It is important to note here that here the poet’s idea reflects a socialistic tone. Here, the speaker undoubtedly criticizes capitalism.

 

Verse Six

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,

(…)

Is this land made for you and me?

Moreover, the speaker saw in the shadow of the steeple a group of people standing. He had also seen another group by the relief office. Here, the poet refers to the problem of hunger and poverty in contemporary times. During the Great Depression, everywhere poor people were starving, some mentally and some physically. However, the speaker is also like them. He was hungry like his fellow countrymen. While standing there he asked, “Is this country made for you and me?” So, the condition of the country at that time made the poet think whether it was the country about which the poet was hopeful in the past.

 

Verse Seven

Nobody living can ever stop me,

(…)

This land was made for you and me.

In the last stanza of ‘This Land Is Your Land’, Woody Guthrie firmly says nobody living in his country can ever stop him from saying what he thinks he should say. As the speaker goes walking that highway, nobody can ever make him turn back. Here, the poet symbolizes the “highway”. It is, according to the poet, a symbol of freedom. In the end, the lyric ends with the same idea that occurs throughout the poem. Though the tone in this section is more forceful and direct in comparison to the previous verses.

 

Historical Context

‘This Land Is Your Land’ is one of the famous folk songs of America. Woody Guthrie wrote this song in 1940, based on the melody of the Carter Family tune, “When the World’s on Fire.” It was written in critical response to ‘God Bless America’ by Irving Berlin. However, Woody Guthrie was tired of listening to Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” on the radio in the late 1930s. In response to it, the lyricist sarcastically wrote in his song, “God Blessed America for Me”. It was before renaming the title of the poem, “This Land Is Your Land.” In 2002, the Library of Congress added this song to the National Recording Registry. ‘This Land Is Your Land’ was one of the 50 recordings chosen that year.

Apart from that, Woody Guthrie composed this song on 23 February 1940, at the hotel room of Hanover House hotel at 43rd Street and 6th Avenue (101 West 43rd Street) in New York. The refrain used in the song, “This land was made for you and me” does not appear in the original manuscript. However, it is implied by his writing of those words at the top of the page and by his subsequent singing of the line with those words. Moreover, the original title of the song was “God Blessed America”, but it was struck out and replaced by “This Land”. Therefore, the original title of the 1940 version was “This Land” and it contained six verses. According to Joe Klein, “he (Guthrie) completely forgot about the song, and didn’t do anything with it for another five years.”

 

Similar Poetry

Like ‘This Land Is Your Land’ composed by Woody Guthrie, here is a list of a few poems that present similar kinds of themes regarding America.

You can read about 10 of the Best 20th Century American Poets here.

What's your thoughts? Join the conversation by commenting
We make sure to reply to every comment submitted, so feel free to join the community and let us know by commenting below.

Discover the Essential Secrets of Poetry

Subscribe to our mailing list to reveal the best-kept secrets behind poetry

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

>
Scroll Up
Send this to a friend