Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John H. Farmer
Visit the Irvington Baptist Church website

America the Beautiful

Most mainline American hymnals include “America the Beautiful” in their patriotic sections. I have long been impressed with the majesty and beauty of the song.

In fact, the song found its voice in a poem written by Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929). Miss Bates developed the poem on a train ride across America in 1893. She was off on a jaunt from her regular teaching career at Wellesley College in Massachusetts to teach a short course at Colorado College. America’s beauty came alive for her.

The original name for the poem was Pike’s Peak. It rallied itself in the Fourth of July edition of the Congregationalist (1895).

While on a summer 1882 ferry ride from Coney Island to New York City, Samuel Ward (1847-1903), organist and choirmaster at Grace Episcopal Church, Newark, N.J., gave the hymn its tune. It was originally struck by him as “Materna,” to which he had originally written as “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem.”

Revisions of music and poem distilled until music and poem paraded their patriotism together in 1910.

It is such a popular song that for almost since poem and music married, folks have tried to replace the “Star-Spangled Banner” with “America.” Oddly enough it was songman Ray Charles (Horace Charles Robinson 1930-2004) who branded this song on my generation.

I thought that a side by side comparison would be instructive as to its migration.

 

Original 1893 Pikes Peak poem:
O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife,
When once or twice, for man’s avail,
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!

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
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!

 

Final 1911 adaption:
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, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
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 every 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!


Click HERE to read the rest of this story in your Record e-Edition, or HERE to subscribe.