". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Something Interesting I Heard

Yesterday Mark Steyn was filling in for Rush Limbaugh. I only heard a few minutes of the program, but he was talking about the shameful inability of the United States thus far to rebuild on the site of the World Trade Center in New York City. In the course of his commentary, he bemoaned the tendency of modern memorials to emphasize things like understanding and healing rather than the strength, indefatigability and exceptionality of the American people, and he talked about the characteristics that set Americans and their country apart from every other. (For those who may not know, Mark Steyn is Canadian.) It sounds like a cliché, but it's true: the story of this country reveals it to historically have been peopled by the most industrious, creative, progressive, tenacious, and able people in the world.

At one point in his disussion of the "wimpification" of our country (my word, not his), Steyn referred to the song "America the Beautiful." He pointed out that most of us, when we think of the song, think only of the memorable descriptions of America's natural landscapes. But then he reminded his listeners that the poet Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote the words to the song, celebrated not just the natural beauty of this country but also its impressive technological and man-made wonders. Consider the fourth stanza:

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!

This stanza is not about America's sublime countryside, but about her shiny, modern cities and about the men who saw "beyond the years" to imagine them! Did you ever notice that? I don't think I ever did. But the next time someone turns "America the Beautiful" into nothing more than an environmental anthem, I know what I'm going to say.

Here's a link that provides a little more detail about Bates' inspiration for this stanza: a stop at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.


Elephantschild said...

Steyn's words summing up the state of the WTC memorial were so good, I wrote them down (and intended to blog about it as well.)

He said (more or less exactly; I was scribbling while he talked): "Taking down the World Trade Center is what Osama and Al-Queda did to us; the 10-year, seven-story hole in the ground is what we did to ourselves."

Susan said...

Is it the cities' modernness that gleams, or is it the fact that those cities are undimmed by tears that is what gleams?

Cheryl said...

Susan, the way I read it, it's the alabaster cities themselves that gleam, and that gleam is not dimmed by the tears that are in the eyes of the beholders.