America the Beautiful

Words by Katherine Lee Bates; music by Samuel Ward, 1893-1913

In your own words, what is the message of each verse of this song?

What is the author saying is beautiful about America in each verse? She ends each verse by asking a special blessing for America. In your own words, what are these blessings?

What national "flaws" do you think the author might have been referring to in verse two? What were other people concerned about during this era?

What does "may God thy gold refine" and "till all success be nobleness" in verse three mean?

Which verse best expresses your feelings about America? Why? What blessings would you ask for America today?

"America the Beautiful" performed by the Sun Harbor Chorus on Patriotic Songs of America, San Diego, CA : Documentary Recordings, © 2002. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

The performers in this recommended recording embellish the harmonic arrangement of this hymn with added melodic lines.

View the published score for "America the Beautiful."

Katherine Lee Bates
Katherine Lee Bates, date unknown.

Two experiences reportedly inspired the poetry of "America the Beautiful." Katherine Bates, a Wellesley professor of English literature, had visited the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and then traveled west to the Rocky Mountains. Upon climbing Pike's Peak and contemplating the view below her, she remembered: "I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse." The "City Beautiful" architectural movement showcased in pavilions at the Chicago Exposition may have suggested the "alabaster cities."

Bates's poem was published in 1895, revised twice, and set to music by several composers. Eventually a publisher set it to an earlier (1882) hymn tune by Samuel Ward; the first publication of music and words together as they are known today was 1913.

Compare this song to patriotic songs in other units:

"Hail Columbia" (Unit 2)

"America (My Country 'Tis of Thee)" (Unit 3)

"Star Spangled Banner" (Unit 3)

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" (Unit 4)

"God Bless America" (Unit 7)

"This Land is Your Land" (Unit 8).

Write a new verse for "America the Beautiful." Start with "Oh Beautiful for..." then follow Katherine Lee Bates' pattern: write the first four lines to express what you believe is beautiful about America today; write the last four lines to ask for some aspect of America to be improved.

Research the paintings of the Hudson River School, a nineteenth-century group of artists who painted the American landscape. Albert Bierstadt and Asher B. Durand brought back east on canvas the grand vistas of the West. What relationships can you see between their paintings and this song?

Choose a verse and reinterpret it in another art form — drawing, painting, dance, drama, or literature.


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