Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Bates’s Beauty

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet

Whose stern impassion'd stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.

America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

The author of this poem, Katherine Lee Bates, wrote it in 1893, rewrote it in 1904, then issued a final version in ’13. The oh-so-familiar tune is “Materna,” composed by Samuel A. Ward in 1882, a decade before the poem itself was written.

What’s not so familiar are all the words of her poem – some of which I have put in boldface. They demand real thoughtfulness about what our Nationhood means (and should mean) even now, 113 years after she wrote it. Happy 4th of July, America! Remember that we stand for freedom, liberty and brotherhood.

1 comment:

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Katherine Lee Bates was 34 when she wrote the poem. She later explained the circumstances:

“American the Beautiful was written it its original form…in the summer of 1893. After visiting at Chicago the World’s Fair, I went on to Colorado Springs. Here I spent three weeks or so under the purple range of the Rockies, which looked down with surprise on a summer school…which had called to its faculty several instructors from the East…

“We strangers celebrated the close of the session by a merry expedition to the top of Pike’s Peak, making the ascent by the only method then available for people not vigorous enough to achieve the climb on foot nor adventurous enough for burro-riding. Prairie wagons, their tailboards emblazoned with the traditional slogan, ‘Pike’s Peak of Bust,’ were pulled by horses up to the half-way house, where the horses were relieved by mules.

“We were hoping for half an hour on the summit, but two of our party became so faint in the rarified air that we were bundled into the wagons again and started on our downward plunge so speedily that our sojourn on the peak remains in memory hardly more than one ecstatic gaze. It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind…”