America: Wheat Fields and Cigarettes

Amber waves of grain. In the United States, we have over 63 million acres of wheat planted yearly. That's almost a hundred thousand square miles, or roughly 3% of the continental United States. And attached to this acreage are farmhouses filled with people working hard. And attached to those houses are small towns which are filled with churches and grocery stores, parks and creeks, ice cream shops and schools.

We all know the phrase "amber waves of grain." Many people who live in cities have not seen this. I never did close up until this last weekend when driving from Chicago to Atlanta. I stopped for gas in a small town in Kentucky. It was a study of contrasts. The gas station smelled like an ashtray and was attended by a chain-smoking cashier. But adjacent to the parking lot was this large field you see pictured here. The beautiful freshness of a field of wheat which at one border had that gas station.

Both are America.

When Katharine Lee Bates wrote the lyrics for America the Beautiful, and its original form, she just called it America. A Poem for July 4. It had a somewhat different form then the one often sung today. It's hard to compare the original with the current version given our rich familiarity with the modern lyrics. Here's the original.

America. A Poem for July 4.

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife,
When once or twice, for man's avail,
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!

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
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!