Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Question on 'America the Beautiful'

Some puff piece on Ronald Reagan was enthusing about his patriotism, saying he knew both versus to 'American the Beautiful.' I'd always thought there were three. Wikipedia adds a fourth. Or, really, a third.
O beautiful, for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
'Til all success be nobleness, and ev'ry gain divine!
Apparently, I've been singing this song wrong. But, that's not my question. My question is with the line
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
Now, when I first learned the song, which I think was Third Grade, although it could have been as late as Fifth, I assumed this referred to our national callousness. Cry all you will, but your grief won't dim the gleam of our cities. However! In my 30s, I came to understand it as aspirational, that one day we would be a nation of whiners no more, and there'd be no tears shed. But, now I'm not so sure.

What do you think?

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