America the Beautiful

by Mark Krikorian

I hate to contradict Jay on matters of music, but “America the Beautiful” is most decidedly not just about our country’s physical beauty. Sure, that’s the title, and the first verse is mainly about the fruited plain and whatnot, but look at the whole song:

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 impassion’d 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!

It’s not a hymn about the landscape but a humble prayer to the Creator, unlike the boastful “Star Spangled Banner.” I love Ray Charles’s rendition of it, but he — like many Americans — misunderstood the mood of the song. In the first verse, many people seem to think “shed” and “crown” are in the past tense; as Charles embellished it, “He crowned thy good, yes he did, with brotherhood”. No, he didn’t. The lyric means “May God shed His grace on thee, and may He crown thy good with brotherhood.” It’s a plea, a entreaty, not a boast. In fact, it’s deeply conservative, asking the Almighty’s assistance in mending our flaws, in helping us avoid libertinism, in avoiding boastfulness. All in all, a fitting song for a republic.