Wednesday, February 05, 2014

So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow....

“The company used such an iconic song, one often sung in churches on the 4th of July that represents the old ‘E Pluribus Unum’ view of how American society is integrated, to push multiculturalism down our throats.”
I guess so, though I don't clearly remember ever singing "America the Beautiful" in church.  I'm pretty sure it was in more than one hymnal I picked up over the decades, though, so I'll concede the point.  Certainly I always took it as a patriotic hymn meant to bolster my allegiance to a country especially blessed by God with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; one nation most definitely under God, to which I had pledged allegiance (whatever that meant) every morning of every school day for years (don't remember when that stopped, but probably it was junior high.).

It was a bit of a surprise to find out the "Pledge of Allegiance" wasn't written for Americans Only, and indeed was written by a "Socialist," and a greater shock to find out it wasn't always "one nation, under God" to which Americans had pledged their allegiance (watching "The Bells of St. Mary" on TCM the other night, it was funny to hear the students recite the pledge without those two words.  They weren't anti-American, they were just pre-Red Scare).  Try as I might, I couldn't quite re-hear the words of that pledge as the author meant them, and I still can't pledge allegiance to a flag (especially in church services on Scout Sunday).  But I can re-hear the words to "America the Beautiful".

"America the Beautiful" is both a declaration of Bates' patriotism and a protest against Gilded Age greed. It begins with the now well-known words,

“Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain; For purple mountains' majesty above the fruited plain."

Then she pivots to the lines meant as a protest against America's reckless and illegal overseas military adventures as well as the U.S. government's illegal suppression of free speech, dissent, and civil liberties:

"America! America! God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law! "
In another verse, she observed:

"America! America! God shed his grace on thee. Till selfish gain no longer stain The banner of the free! "
Since the 1970's reaction to the anti-war movement, I've associated patriotism with "My country, right or wrong!," and "America:  Love It or Leave It." (If you think the Tea Party is sui generis you are so, so wrong.)  Not the humble love of country and nation, in other words, but the muscular assertion of superiority of an idea.  So it is a challenge to my preconceptions to hear the words "God shed his grace on thee" not as a declarative statement, but as a request.  Even with the sentence that follows, my insistence on the context that song was always presented in overrode what the words were actually saying.

So much, in other words, depends on what we are told the words mean, than on what the lyrics themselves reveal they mean.  But if we take the lyrics for what they say, rather than for how some have presented the song, we get a sense of the humility that makes America great, rather than the braggadocio that dminishes us.

And if you hang on through the commercial above, you'll get some beautiful statements from the singers about our liberty in law, about free speech and civil liberties, and about who is "American."

It's a lovely response to the haters, who just gotta hate.  Alan West should be ashamed of himself; but we should still consider him an American.

1 comment:

  1. Not to mention that K. L. Bates was a published translator whose mother was also a devoted polyglot. They worked on a translation, together. In the introduction to it she said her mother's Spanish bible was found to be as worn as her English one, that reading Spanish AND SAYING HER PRAYERS IN SPANISH WAS HER DELIGHT.

    "Mrs. Cornelia Frances Bates (1826-1908), a graduate of
    Mount Holyoke in the days of Mary Lyon and the widow
    of a Congregational minister, took up the study of Spanish
    at the age of seventy-one. Until her death ten years later,
    the proverbial ten years of "labor and sorrow," her Spanish
    readings and translations were a keen intellectual delight.
    Her Spanish Bible, from which she had committed many
    passages to memory, was found at her death no less worn
    than her English one. Even a few hours before dying, she
    repeated in Spanish, without the failure of a syllable, the
    Shepherd's Psalm and the Lord's Prayer."

    She would probably have delighted in having her most famous poem sung in different languages.