Monday, July 4, 2011

America the Beautiful by Katherine Lee Bates

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.

Some thoughts…

On the poet: Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929) was a Professor of English Literature at Wellesley College. She wrote this poem after being inspired by a visit to Pike’s Peak in Colarado.

On the poem: The poem was first published in a weekly journal in 1895, and was twice revised by Ms. Bates. Having been set to music soon after it appeared in print, it’s now remembered more as a song, almost as beloved as the national anthem.

On a personal note: I can imagine how Bates felt after her visit to Colorado. It was on a trip to Yellowstone that for the first time I felt truly moved by the rugged majesty of this land. It’s quite appropriately called Big Sky country. There’s a sense of limitless grandeur to the landscape that doesn’t diminish the viewer, as much as expand the soul.

In the years before I moved to the U.S., more by chance than intention, I used to be considerably irked by what I perceived as Yankee jingoism – the kind that manifested itself in its foreign policy, was brayed aloud by its media outlets, and threatened to engulf the world with its all-consuming popular culture.

Love for America the Beautiful sneaked up on me, and caught me unawares.

America is still unpopular in many parts of the world, and probably justifiably so. But in my experience, turning one’s back on former prejudices and resentments is not an act of betrayal. It is an awakening to the truth that we’re part of something much bigger than we once thought. We're all connected, each to the other, 'from sea to shining sea'.

Happy 235th.  birthday, Gorgeous.

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