A Closer Walk
An English professor from Wellesley, Massachusetts, took a trip by train to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the spring of 1893. Katherine Lee Bates, age 33, was inspired by some of the sights she saw on this trip, especially the wheatfields of Kansas, and the view of The Great Plains from the top of Pike's Peak. Arriving back at her hotel room in Colorado Springs she began writing a poem about what she had seen, and titled it appropriately, "Pike's Peak." In 1882 Samuel A. Ward, a church organist and Choirmaster at Grace Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey, wrote new music for an old hymn, named "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem." He titled the new music, "Materna."
Miss Bates' poem was first published in the July fourth edition of the church periodical, "The Congregationalist," in 1895, and was entitled "America.'' Mr. Ward's music was combined with her poem and first published in 1910 as "America the Beautiful." Here is the first stanza. "Oh beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties, Above the fruited plain."
Even though Miss Bates and Mr. Ward never met, their collaboration produced one of the most beautiful patriotic songs in our country's history. Some even believe that it should be our National Anthem, rather than the Star Spangled Banner. Interestingly, over seventy-five different pieces of music have been written to be paired with Miss Bates' poem. The first known melody was by a man named Silas Pratt and was written right after the poem was first published in The Congregationalist in 1895.
While the song "America the Beautiful" can cause patriotism and nostalgia to well up within us, we should remember who created those amber waves of grain and the purple mountain majesties. "It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it, I stretched out the heavens with My hands, And I ordained all their host," Isaiah 45:12 NASB. And further, "For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, But formed it to be inhabited), I am the Lord, and there is none else," Isaiah 45:18. Our God is the Lord, and there is none else!
What may we learn from all this? Two things. First: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord...”, Psalm 33:12 NASB. Second: “Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it...”, Psalm 127:1 NASB.
Mr. Ward's music is beautiful to listen to. Miss Bates' words are both patriotic and profound. Together they make a wonderful and touching piece of music about our homeland. America! America! God shed His grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood, From sea to shining sea.