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During the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Tank Man (his name has been reported as Wang Weilin, a 19-year-old student) was arrested for “political hooliganism.” Varying reports suggested he was either imprisoned or executed.

In Nineteen Eighty-Nine
He crossed the battle line.
The world saw courage shine—
He took a stand.

His actions were unplanned.
Tyranny, be damned!
With shopping bags in hand—
He took a stand.

He raised an open palm
With poise and grace and calm.
Without a trace of qualm—
He took a stand.

With grit, he stood his ground;
Roared Freedom! with no sound;
Turned heads and hearts around—
He took a stand.

He had his silent say.
They carried him away.
Although he knew he’d pay—
He took a stand.

With everything to lose,
We’re walking in his shoes.
Which one of us will choose
To take a stand?

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Susan Jarvis Bryant is a church secretary and poet whose homeland is Kent, England.  She is now an American citizen living on the coastal plains of Texas.  Susan has poetry published in the UK webzine, Lighten Up On Line, The Daily Mail, and Openings (anthologies of poems by Open University Poets).


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23 Responses

  1. Russel Winick

    This poem is wonderful, Susan! I especially love the line “Roared Freedom! with no sound.”

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you, Russel – I’m glad you liked that line. I wanted to convey just how much this young man said without saying one word. Sometimes actions do speak louder than words and sometimes those actions are in a language that’s universal.

      Reply
    • Cynthia Erlandson

      That’s exactly what I was going to say! Actions certainly do speak louder than words! That is a brilliant line, and a moving poem.

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Thank you very much, Cynthia. Great poets think alike

  2. Paul Freeman

    I do like this poem. The meter is punchy and the rhymes (which in less able hands could have been stretched) are spot on.

    The last stanza, I felt, took away from the strong universality (if that’s a word) of the poem’s sentiment. If you want the poem to appeal to a North Korean peasant, a Myanmar school teacher, a Russian independent journalist, etc., perhaps a second conditional change, such as below would help:

    He’d nothing left to lose.
    If we were in his shoes,
    Which one of us would choose
    To take a stand?

    Thanks for the read.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Paul, thank you for your take. To my mind, there’s no IF about it. We ARE in his shoes. Anyone who can’t see that the CCP are in control of MSM, Big Tech, Hollywood, Sports, Pharmaceuticals, Westminster and now the White House, with designs on the whole world, has not been keeping up with current affairs. The CCP is the enemy of every freedom-loving individual on God’s green earth.

      Reply
  3. Mike Bryant

    I love the “nothing left to lose” line. Tank Man was using his God-given freedom of speech to make plain that the CCP were responsible for the Tiananmen Square Massacre. THE threat to freedom, truth and beauty today IS the Chinese Communist Party, its defenders and everyone who profits from it….including many in governments worldwide.
    The CCP has made world domination their top priority. I agree with the sentiments of your powerful poem… there ain’t no IF about it.

    Reply
  4. BRIAN YAPKO

    This is a very fine poem, Susan. The hero you write about is a worthy one, and the message is a deeply important one. It’s a compelling combination of an epitaph and a modern ballad climaxed with a real challenge.

    As one who is a great admirer of your poetry, I hesitate to nitpick regarding what is essentially a perfect poem — but I have a content question about that last quatrain also. He may have had nothing left to lose (which, if true, undermines the bravery of his actions just a bit) , but I feel like we have everything to lose. What if that line in fact read “With everything to lose, we’re walking in his shoes…”? True, that would take the focus off of him, but it would put the focus on us. I guess it depends on where you want that spotlight.

    That being said, let me also admire “Roared Freedom with no sound” and “he had his silent say” as memorable oxymorons which so well suit this story and which capture the essence of China’s mastery of manipulation. This is a memorable read whose deceptively simple lines carry a message of great heft. Well done!

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Brian, thank you very much for your exceptional comment. Your nit-pick is valid. I will admit to struggling with the closing stanza which may be why Paul struggled with it. Your solution is spot on. It’s what I was trying to say but couldn’t manage to do it… I feel ‘Tank Man’ had reached the nothing-left-to-lose stage, but, as you rightly point out, we still have everything to lose, that’s why our fight is so important.

      I’m grateful for your honesty and perspicacity.

      Reply
      • BRIAN YAPKO

        Thank you, Susan. I like the change and I’m very glad that you do too! It’s a powerful piece with a very clear message.

  5. Joe Tessitore

    This is brilliant, Susan!

    As the like-minded are being drawn to one another, you can feel that our Unknown Rebel will soon be standing.

    Reply
  6. Cheryl Corey

    The Beijing backed government in Hong Kong is once again using coronavirus as an excuse to ban any vigil to remember what happened at Tiananmen Square. People in mainland China can’t even mention it.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Cheryl, your comment exposes the wicked and tyrannical nature of the very people our current administration is eager to back.

      Reply
  7. Jeff Eardley

    Susan, I remember this on TV and it is good to remember on the June 4th anniversary. He was certainly a courageous soul, as was the tank driver who slammed on the brakes. It would be nice to think he survived and melted back into his old life. Thank you for another powerful work.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you very much, Jeff. I too would like to think ‘Tank Man’ survived, but not to live a life of oppression he was railing against. I’d rather imagine he escaped to a fairer, saner world.

      Reply
  8. Margaret Coats

    Susan, this is a splendid use of refrain. It resounds four times to emphasize the brave stand of this hero, and with the final echo turns the last stanza into an envoi addressed to readers.

    This young man chose to take his stand on June 5, when the violent government suppression of democracy protests was a done deal. That makes him all the more a noteworthy model of ongoing resistance. A number of leaders of the weeks-long protest did escape to a saner and fairer world, some after years of imprisonment. We are fortunate to have them among us. One did remark that if they had known their power at the time, they could have seized radio and TV stations, just as they had persuaded the first troops sent to the Square to come over to their side. It is sad to recall that their last democratic action was to abandon occupation of the Square in the wee hours of June 4. Knowing that hostile forces were approaching and firing, they took a vote!

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Margaret, I really appreciate your comment. In 1989, ‘Tank Man’ made a huge impression on me. I have often wondered if I were in the same circumstances, would I choose to tread the fearsome path of brave souls. I like to think I would… but, at the same time, hope I am never tested. I may speak out, but actions certainly speak louder than words.

      I am heartened to hear that a number of leaders eventually escaped to a saner and fairer world. It’s those very people who are able to bring perspective and wisdom to our current situation… if they’re permitted to speak.

      1989 was a year to remember in many ways. My next poetic endeavor is the fall of the Berlin Wall – another historic moment that is etched in my heart. Once again, I must thank the SCP for allowing us to express the alternative viewpoint in an ever-increasingly single-minded world.

      Reply
  9. Yael

    Great poem Susan, I love it. The rhymes and alliterations sound so free and natural. Even though I notice that there is a rigid order in your poem it never sounds forced or contrived as it conveys the narrative. It’s a pleasure to read.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Yael, thank you very much for this lovely comment… I am glowing with joy as I know you have a musical ear and to hear that nothing in my poem jars, even though, as you rightly say, ‘there is a rigid’ order, makes me very happy indeed.

      Reply

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