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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Katharine Lee Bates Memorial

This statue stands Falmouth, Massachusetts to commemorate Katharine Lee Bates, a Falmouth native, who wrote the words to “America the Beautiful.”

There’s quite a lot of beauty in Falmouth, too, so Miss Bates wouldn’t have had to go far to find inspiration for an inspirational poem. This poem, however, found its roots in a trip she took across the country when on sabbatical from her position as Professor of English literature at Wellesley College in 1893, on her way to lecture at Colorado College.

She took in the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition on the way, whose exhibits lauded the progress of a vigorous American nation, and that and the train ride the rest of the way through the “amber waves of grain” of Kansas and the “purple mountain majesties” of the Rocky Mountains gave her a lot to think about. An expedition up Pike’s Peak in a horse-drawn wagon and the view from the top was probably all she needed to get her going on one of the most endearing patriotic poems ever written.

An early draft had been written almost immediately, then there were revisions, publications of different drafts, and finally in 1904, a Baptist minister from Rochester, New York linked the stanzas with a tune written in 1882 by Samuel Augustus Ward, a church organist from New Jersey who had conceived the melody as a hymn.

Mr. Ward and Miss Bates never met each other, and neither profited from the resulting song. Miss Bates gave permission to use the poem to anyone who wanted it, requiring only that not a single word be changed.

Here is the final version of “America the Beautiful” published in 1913:

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 the 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!

Want to go? Visit this Falmouth visitor’s website.
Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.

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