Patriotic poetry stirs the soul

Published 1:08 am Saturday, September 13, 2008

Among the numerous unsolicited pieces of mail that find their way to our house was one from a national service foundation recently. It was selling American flags to finance veterans’ services. I’m not a person who opens mail over a wastebasket. Yet that’s where a majority of solicitations we receive for money lands after I have looked them over.

I held back with this particular one, because I pulled a little folder out of the envelope that depicted our beautiful American flag against a background of blue sky. The words under it read, “Hat’s off, the flag is passing by.” It must have been years and years since I had heard that poem, but it struck a note with me. Instantly, I thought of a parade. I’m sure that’s the first thing that would pop into anyone’s mind as they looked at the picture and saw those words. How many times has my heart surged in pride and thankfulness as I saw a parade with the “colors before us flying by?” The poem makes one’s heart pound and tremble at the thought of so many brave warriors who have fought to preserve our country and the present ones who still defend us.

The man who wrote the song was an American banker, poet and critic, Edmund Clarence Stedman. He was a journalist in his early years, studied law, and compiled an American anthology as well as a Victorian anthology.

Upon meditating about this surge of patriotism that swept over me, I remembered a Sunday morning, July 4, some years ago when the beginning words of a hymn the congregation sang at a worship service were “O beautiful for spacious skies…” That song, “America the Beautiful,” sent my imagination whirling. I could saw fields of grain gently rippling with a breeze, mountains of unbelievable heights, a bright blue sky with mounds of fluffy clouds and waves tumbling toward the white sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. I remember saying that my heart sang the song along with my voice.

I wondered about the poet’s inspiration for the lyrics of the song. Her name was Katharine Lee Bates. Not a familiar name to most of us, yet the words she penned have continued to thrill Americans down through the years. In fact, in 1926, there was a drive to replace “The Star-Spangled Banner” with it as the national anthem.

Miss Bates visited Pike’s Peak when she was 33 years old. She wrote that all the wonder of America seemed displayed there, out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies. She jotted four stanzas in a notebook after that visit. The lyrics were put to several tunes, but it was published with the tune “Materna,” composed by Samuel A. Ward. That’s what we sing today.

It’s a great feeling to hear a beautiful hymn or read a poem that expresses what you feel in your heart. Poets Stedman and Bates did exactly that.