Home Bright Gems Inspiring Poet Katherine Bates was inspired by her love for America

Poet Katherine Bates was inspired by her love for America

by Ruth Storkel

O, beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain;

For purple mountain majesties

Across the fruited plain.

America, America,

God shed His grace on thee.

And crown thy good with brotherhood,

From sea to shining sea

-Katherine Lee Bates

One of America’s most beloved patriotic songs, it was written by Katherine Lee Bates, poet, and Samuel A. Ward, composer (1893).

Miss Bates was a 33-year-old college English professor who traveled by train to Colorado in 1893. Several of the sights she viewed on that train ride inspired her to write the words to this song, which she entitled “Pike’s Peak.” Some of the scenery she described in her poem were the “Columbian Exposition” in Chicago, the vast Kansas wheat fields, and finally, a marvelous view of the Great Plains from high atop Pike’s Peak. “All the wonders of America seemed displayed there,” wrote Bates.

The present beautiful melody of “America the Beautiful” was not the first one sung when the song was initially published. (There were at least 75 different tunes composed for it.) Samuel A. Ward wrote the hymn tune in 1882, and it became the most popular tune for this wonderful song. Mr. Ward was the organist and choir director at Grace Church in Newark. He was inspired to write the music at the end of a leisurely summer day when he had ridden a ferry boat home from Coney Island to his residence in New York City.

Ward’s music and Bates’ poem were first published together in 1910 as “America the Beautiful.” This patriotic hymn has untold stories—-stories of inspiration and appreciation for this beautiful and extraordinary land God has privileged us to share.

One such story was told about a company of soldiers from six New England states, “The Yankee Division.” November 11, 1918, the armistice ending World War I was declared. These soldiers stood in amazement as the artillery guns grew silent at 11 a.m. near Verdun, France. Before long, the soldiers slowly and cautiously came out of their trenches, some in tears, and began singing “America the Beautiful.” What a moment!

These soldiers understood the cost of freedom. And they sang their love of country, the land they would joyfully be going home to ‘ere long! Many have fought and died for us to experience the liberty and blessings we know today. Let’s join them and sing this song with thankfulness in our hearts for all who have sacrificed and paid so much for us! We owe them an unspeakable debt!

Bates wrote three additional stanzas:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,

Whose stern impassioned stress,

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness.

America, America,

God mend thine ev’ry 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 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!

For an inspiring listening experience, check out this video presentation of “America the Beautiful” :

The story of Katherine Bates’s poetry writing beckons us.

Artists, composers, painters, and poets: What inspires you?

An eagle in flight, a beautiful newborn baby, a snow-covered mountain peak, or a sunset over Puget Sound? Let the creativity flow out of the beauty around you; share your gifts and bring joy to your community and the world! We welcome your gifts!


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