Purple Mountain Majesty

Katharine Lee Bates was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and in 1893 as a Wellesley College professor she traveled to Colorado Springs to teach summer school.  While there, she visited Pikes Peak, the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.  The view inspired her to write the poem that would one day become the song ‘America the Beautiful’, which is one of the United States’ most famous patriotic songs.  The words, particularly the phrase “purple mountain majesty,” are said to have been inspired by Bates’ stay in Colorado.  ‘America the Beautiful’ first appeared in print in the weekly journal The Congregationalist, on July 4, 1895.

As Katharine Lee Bates was looking at the view of the Rockies from Pikes Peak, she saw the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into her mind.  When she left Colorado Springs the four stanzas were penciled in her notebook, together with other memoranda, in verse and prose, of the trip.  The Wellesley work soon absorbed time and attention again, the notebook was laid aside, and she did not remember paying heed to these verses until the second summer following, when she copied them out and sent them to The Congregationalist magazine which was founded in 1872 and contained Methodist stories that inspire, inform, and uplift used for people to connect.  The hymn attracted an unexpected amount of attention and it was set to music by Silas G. Pratt.  Other tunes were written for the words and so many requests came to her, that in 1904 she rewrote it, to make the phraseology simpler and more direct.  The poem was sung with a variety of tunes, but a tune composed in 1888 by Samuel A. Ward ‘Materna’ that was previously known as ‘O Mother Dear Jerusalem’ was adapted as its melody.

Katharine was a prolific author publishing many volumes of poetry, books on her travels to Europe and the Middle East and stories, verses and plays for children.  She also published several books on Shakespeare and pre-Shakespearean English Religious drama.  Perhaps her second most famous piece of work Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride, which was written in 1889 added to the legend of Santa Claus by giving the fabled old man a wife who actually accompanies him on his Christmas Eve delivery rides.  Katharine Bates invented Mrs. Claus because she thought that Santa could not possibly do all of this work by himself.  Mrs. Claus takes responsibility for the sleigh and the reindeer while her husband makes his deliveries via the chimneys, but on this one occasion she was actually allowed to descend a chimney herself to spread her own bit of Christmas magic.  Bates died on March 28, 1929 at the age of 70.

Written for Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

23 thoughts on “Purple Mountain Majesty

      1. I climbed the Manitou Incline and some of the Barr Trail, but I did not get to the top. However that was enough to tell me that the area is beautiful. There is also the Garden of the Gods, huge rock formations rising at the base of the mountains.

        Liked by 1 person

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