A long history of riffs on this poem of Katherine Lee Bates begins with her Wellesley students, including one of my grandmothers, honoring Bates with a version at graduation, that substitutes “Crown thy good with sisterhood, from sea to shining sea.”
Beautiful are spacious skies,
but not just Wyoming and South Dakota,
where open seems to go on forever.
Beautiful are dark Maine forests,
Detroit streets and Carlsbad caverns.
Beautiful are amber grains,
and also the indigo waves of the Pacific,
purple mountains, urban canyons,
and Mississippi delta, too.
Beautiful are fruited places —
Washington apples and Georgia peaches
Texas grapefruit, Finger Lake grapes
and the hands who pick that fruit.
Beautiful are the pilgrim feet
of Plymouth Rock and Ellis Island.
More lovely are those feet when they stand
humble before Trail of Tears feet,
the feet of those brought here in chains,
feet blistered crossing the desert,
feet in ankle bracelets of ICE.
Beautiful are heroes of so many wars,
those who gave their lives,
and families who gave their loves.
Beautiful are others who came back
troubled in their hearts,
or with nightmares and missing limbs,
who need more than twice-a-year parades
resources for a peace-time life.
Beautiful are heroes of many kinds —
who fight fires, police streets, guard coasts,
ride the ambulances.
Beautiful are emergency-room staff,
social workers and addiction counselors,
the Navajo poet on the reservation,
the boxing coach in the Bronx.
America, called beautiful, diversity’s your pride.
Let justice bless, compassion sing,
and not one of the I-have-a-dreams
of even one of your children … ever be denied.