AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL: God shed his grace on thee

I love the patriotic song, America the Beautiful. In many ways, I prefer it to the Star Spangled Banner, which I find difficult to sing and less representative of the American spirit.   That doesn’t stop me from welling up when it is played at the Olympics, at the beginning of a baseball game, or at other events.  But if there was a contest to re-select the national anthem, I’d choose America the Beautiful. It was written by poet Katharine Lee Bates and put to the music of organist and composer Samuel Ward.

I particularly love the panorama of our country which is represented in the song… “amber waves of grain, purple mountains majesty, fruited plains, alabaster cities, from sea to shining sea”…you can feel those places.  The choice of language is brilliant and sparkling.

I’ve always been attentive to the phrase, “God shed his grace on thee.” It could be taken in two different ways:

  • Past tense, as in “God (has) shed his grace on thee.” This is a testimony to the history of the founders and those who came after them.
  • Future tense, as in “(May) God shed his grace on thee.” It is a call for blessing upon the country as she moves forward and meets new demands.

From the specific language of the text, I’m convinced that it is more the latter than the former.  It is an invocation upon the life and future of the country.

I’m aware of the fact that there are those who reject the theistic nature of the composition, which is more a hymn than a simple song.  I can understand that politically, and suspect that it is enough to keep the piece from replacing the Star Spangled Banner as the national anthem.   But there are those, also, who struggle with the militaristic theme of the National Anthem, a legitimate but limited theme when considering the entire history and meaning of this country.

In any case, it is well that we have a variety of national songs which will be heard today as we celebrate the birth of this nation.

We’ll be watching our favorite parade from the porch of the Harbor View Hotel in Martha’s Vineyard.  It is Americana at its best.  Our trip begins with a ferry cruise to the island and concludes with a late-night ferry back to the mainland.  Every year it is a memorable day.

Photo Credit:  Columbia spectator. com

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  1. herb yavel says:

    it cannot be god shed his grace on thee(past tense)because then crown thy good would have to be crowned thy good also past. in a compound sentence both verbs must agree in tense you cannot say I went to the store and buy a quart of milk. thus it has to understood as invocative. May God or would that God.

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