July 22, 1893 ~ Katherine Lee Bates: America the Beautiful


After admiring the majestic view from the top of Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs, Colorado, Poet Katharine Lee Bates wrote the hyper-visual, thought provoking, and soul moving poem “America the Beautiful,” which many consider to be the greatest American patriotic poem and song of all time.

In an article published in 1918, Bates, a poet, travel writer, and essayist explained the poems history.

She began composing this hymn while traveling west in 1893 with a group of teachers from New England.

After a long ride to the summit by horse and finally mule-drawn wagon, a brief view of Pikes Peak provided a panoramic spectacle that was the inspiration for “purple mountain majesties.”

A later visit to Chicago’s Columbian World Exposition with its white neoclassical designed exhibition buildings inspired the image of “alabaster cities” in the final stanza. And while traveling by train through Kansas, the wheat fields stimulated the memorable phrase “amber waves of grain.”

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!

The search for a tune for this poem was not easy.

In her 1918 account, Bates noted that more than sixty tunes had been written for her text.

In 1926, the National Federation of Music Clubs held a contest for a tune, but none of the approximately six hundred entries were deemed suitable.

Today “America the Beautiful” is almost exclusively sung to Samuel A. Ward’s “Materna.”

The only pay that the author ever received for her poem was a small check for its appearance in a periodical.

Bates continued to make changes to poem until it was published in its final form in 1911.


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