The Journal Gazette
Thursday, July 04, 2019 1:00 am


America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

You don't have to bleed red, white and blue to get a lump in your throat listening to the stirring lyrics of Katherine Lee Bates' “America the Beautiful.” What American's mind isn't immediately transported to a favorite image of our great nation by the hymn's opening strains?

On this day set aside to mark the nation's independence, many of us will hear the song and other beloved anthems and feel a stronger connection to our fellow Americans. Political differences seem less important when focusing on what makes us one, including a shared love of American ideals and the grandeur of our nation.

But “America The Beautiful” is also a reminder that love of country means more than loving the parts and Americans we individually support.

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

Bates was a 33-year-old English professor at Wellesley College when she traveled by train to Colorado Springs to teach summer courses at Colorado College. Her 1893 poem, later set to music by Samuel A. Ward, was inspired by some of the sites she witnessed, including the “alabaster cities” prompted by Chicago's gleaming white buildings, wheat fields in Kansas and that sweeping view of the plains from a majestic Pikes Peak.

Far from her hometown of Falmouth, Massachussetts, Bates connected what she had seen on her own journey with the quest of the nation's first immigrants, seeking freedom and a better way of life.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,

Whose stern, impassioned stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness!

A proper observance of our nation's independence acknowledges the differences allowed by that independence. Loving the USA means loving its conservative heartland, its liberal coasts and everything in between. It means accepting opposing views and seeking common ground.

America! America!

God mend thine every flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law!

While Bates acknowledged the role of law in our young nation, she also recognized that fixing its flaws required more than prayer. A 2017 biography describes her as a social activist who worked on behalf of women, workers, people of color, tenement residents, immigrants and the poor. She was an advocate for the global peace movement after World War I and decried American isolationism.

O beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved

And mercy more than life!

Marking this day with the sound and sight of fireworks is a fitting way to recall the military might that delivered and has continued to protect our nation. But the observance should remind us more of the contributions and sacrifices made by our heroes than by any firepower they might have wielded.

O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears!

Bates wrote her poem fewer than 30 years after the close of the Civil War, our nation's darkest period, yet found beauty and inspiration in the continuing quest for a better nation.

Our differences today might seem irreparable, but they are small when compared to the differences that prompted Americans to take up arms against one another. There's inspiration to reach beyond today's challenges in “America the Beautiful.” Happy Fourth of July.

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

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