September 21, 2016

America the Beautiful

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Tennessee 

To some degree, this is what could be defined as a blog-post on demand, in fact it originates from a request by a good friend of mine, who asked me about a decent Italian translation of “America the Beautiful,” the classic patriotic song that many Americans regard as a second national anthem. After a quick search on Google I realized that there is essentially nothing at all—except a few really awful automatically generated translations (or supposedly such). So I decided to translate it myself (look at the bottom of this post). But at the same time I thought that it would be great to seize the opportunity to get deeper into the subject. Which I enthusiastically did—by exploring the genealogy of “America the Beautiful,” its context, meaning and inner beauty—because I’ve always loved that song. So this post is the result of such an effort. And my humble tribute to such a magnificent example of poetic and musical talent, as well as, of course, of American patriotism.

In the beginning there was a poem.
Katharine Lee Bates
In the summer of 1893 a Massachusetts professor of English at Wellesley College, Katharine Lee Bates was giving a series of lectures on English literature at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs. The writing of “America the Beautiful” was the result of that trip. “One day,” she recalled in her diary, “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.” It was “the most glorious scenery I ever beheld, and I had seen the Alps and the Pyrenees,” she wrote. “My memory of that supreme day of our Colorado sojourn is fairly distinct even across the stretch of 35 crowded years,” she 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.” “It was then and there,” she recalled, “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!


Yet, “America the Beautiful” is not just a nostalgic evocation of a pastoral landscape. It’s also a tribute to the faithful courage and tenacity of the Pilgrims, who first tamed the wilderness,

Oh beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!


and to the heroes who fought for freedom

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!


In a letter to friends, Bates also rebuked her fellow countrymen/women by observing that “countries such as England failed because, while they may have been great,” they had not been good. That's why, “unless we are willing to crown our greatness with goodness, and our bounty with brotherhood, our beloved America may go the same way”...

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!


The poem is also a hymn to the “dream” which is America herself, to the nation’s potential—including the gleaming modernity of its “alabaster cities” :

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!


“America the Beautiful” was published in three revised versions: the first on July 4, 1895, in a weekly church publication in Boston called The Congregationalist, the second on November 19, 1904, in the Boston Evening Transcript, and third and final one in her book America the Beautiful and Other Poems (1911).

The poem became quickly popular. “No one was more amazed than I at the way the hymn was taken up,” the poetess once explained. “When I found that you really wanted to sing it, I rewrote it in some respects to make it a bit more musical.” The poem was sung to many different tunes for years—many simply started singing the words in the tune of a folk song, such as “Auld Lang Syne”—until, finally, it followed the melody of Samuel Augustus Ward’s “Materna,” which became the standard melody still used today. So “America the beautiful” became the great patriotic anthem that we all know and love :

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!


Over the years, the song has been recorded by such artists as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson.


Since the very beginning of it all, many citizens have lobbied Congress to make the song the national anthem of the United States of America. On July 4, 1993, an “America the Beautiful” plaque was installed on the top of Pike’s Peak to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the poem.

The plaque commemorating the 100th anniversary of "America the Beautiful"


AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
- ITALIAN VERSION -

O bella, per i cieli spaziosi
Per le onde ambrate di grano
Per la maestà di montagne color porpora
Sopra la pianura fruttuosa!
America! America!
Dio ha sparso la sua grazia su di te
E corona il tuo bene con la fratellanza
Da mare a mare splendente!

O bella per i piedi dei pellegrini
Il cui severo e appassionato sforzo
Ha tracciato una strada di libertà
Attraverso deserti e terre selvagge!
America! America!
Dio ripara ogni tuo difetto,
Rafforza la tua anima nell’autocontrollo
E la tua libertà nella legge!

O bella per gli eroi che hanno mostrato
Il proprio coraggio
Nella lotta per la libertà.
Che hanno amato il proprio Paese
Più di sé stessi
E la misericordia più della vita!
America! America!
Possa Dio raffinare il tuo oro
Fino a rendere nobile il successo
E divino ogni guadagno!

O bella per il sogno dei patrioti
Che vede al di là degli anni
Brillare le tue città di alabastro
Non offuscate da lacrime umane!
America! America!
Dio ha sparso la sua grazia su di te
E corona il tuo bene con la fratellanza
Da mare a mare splendente!

ORIGINAL TEXT

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!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every 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 every 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!




Recommend this post on Google!


6 comments:

  1. True, England has been great, but not always good. Scotland similarly. The same applies to the USA, and to most nations of the world.
    What is important is to be able to admit historical errors. The USA has yet to do so regarding the way they put their trust in Pakistan rather than the first concerned. They probably never will admit any faults regarding the clumsy Ukrainian affair which is still explosive.
    But then England has never made a formal apology to Scotland regarding the Glencoe massacre. It has never tried to ban the provocative Orange March in Ireland. Flames of wrath should never be annually fanned to burn on endlessly.
    Germany has been exemplary in this respect, perhaps more so than France. But we all know that Turkey has failed shamefully and miserably in acknowledging its own relatively recent history.

    ReplyDelete
  2. And the same applies to the ancient Rome as well..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By all accounts Ancient Rome had a very positive impact in most of Europe. What wrongs the Romam Empire is discredited for are dwarfed in comparaison to the enormous social and infrastructural contribution it made to establish civilisation.

      Delete
    2. I couldn't agree more with you, my friend.

      Delete

Related Posts with Thumbnails