July 4, 2017

SEE BEYOND:

America The Beautiful : Steyn's Song for the Season by Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel A Ward (Mark Steyn, July 4, 2017, SteynOnline)

In 1893, a Massachusetts professor called Katharine Lee Bates was giving a series of summer lectures on English literature at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs. "One day," she recalled, "some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there."

Professor Bates had not previously traveled in the Rockies or seen much of her country at all beyond New England, and the unbounded beauty of the land awed her - and inspired her. It was "the most glorious scenery I ever beheld, and I had seen the Alps and the Pyrenees," she said. "My memory of that supreme day of our Colorado sojourn is fairly distinct even across the stretch of 35 crowded years," Miss Bates wrote a year before her death in 1929. "We stood at last on that Gate-of-Heaven summit, hallowed by the worship of perished races, and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse."

Though she insisted "the sublimity of the Rockies smote my pencil with despair", she was not "wordless" for long. "It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind":

Oh beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

She put them down on paper that evening in her room at the Antlers Hotel. Today you'd be hard put to find a quatrain known to more Americans. Whether it's Gary Larson's "Far Side" cartoon of Columbus approaching land and saying, "Look! Purple mountains! Spacious skies! ...Is someone writing this down?" or Rush Limbaugh at noon eastern welcoming listeners "across the fruited plain" to his daily radio show, every anchorman, cartoonist, comedian or advertising copywriter who evokes those words is assured that they're as instantly familiar to his audience as any lines ever written in American English.

Posted by at July 4, 2017 7:34 AM

  

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