America the Beautiful

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Pikes PeakIn the summer of 1893, Katharine Lee Bates traveled from Boston, where she was an English professor at Wellesley College, to Colorado to teach a session at Colorado College. While in Colorado Springs, she climbed Pikes Peak, and at the top of the 14,155 foot summit, she began to fashion in her mind the words to the poem that became “America the Beautiful.” When she came down from the mountain, she finished the poem at her hotel. The poem was published two years later in The Congregationalist. The original title of the poem was “America. A poem for July 4.”

When the poem was recast into a hymn by Samuel A. Ward in 1910, the title changed to “America the Beautiful.” Ward was on a ferry in New York when he thought of the tune. In a moment of inspiration, and so he wouldn’t forget the tune, Ward borrowed a friend’s shirt cuff and jotted the notes down on it.

Bates traveled to Colorado by train, and she saw several places that you can see in the poem: the wheat fields of Kansas, the buildings of the Chicago World’s Fair, and the Great Plains.

“America the Beautiful”

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!

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.

Other mountains and majestic places in the U.S. could easily have been the source of inspiration for the poem, had Bates traveled there instead of Pikes Peak. So much could be said about beautiful places in the U.S., but Yellowstone and the Tetons come to mind. Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the U.S. It took two years to create Yellowstone park; President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Act in 1872, creating a 2.2 million acre park. The park’s main purpose was to protect the geysers and hot springs, as well as the wildlife. Nearby is the Teton Range. The creation of Grand Teton National Park was more controversial; it took 50 years to create the park in 1950. The park also benefitted from donations of land by John D. Rockefeller, who bought up properties and gave them to the National Park Service. We are so very lucky to have a national park system in the U.S. to protect and preserve these special places. We are also lucky to have people like John Muir and Aldo Leopold (both from Wisconsin) to lead us in the preservation and celebration of the wild places in America.

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One Response to “America the Beautiful”

  1. Thanks for this post. I never knew the second and third verses and they are so nicely written too. Just read the Declaration of Independence yesterday and that should be a must read on the 4th. Thanks for your excellent post.

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