After publication, her poem gained continual, ever-greater popularity as it was matched to various tunes that were in vogue at the time, but it wasn’t until 1910 that the two parts of the song came together, which would be, tragically, seven years after the death of Ward. Bates and Ward would never even meet.
There’s a very interesting web article about the song at Pophistorydig.com. Some excerpted quotes are pasted below:
“According to some accounts, the poem’s original author, Katherine Bates, was making [a] pointed critique in this verse of the materialistic and self-serving robber barons of the 1890s, and was urging America to live up to its more nobler self and ideals. She was also honoring the memory of those who died for their country. Charles too, in his selection of the second verse as lead, is making this emphasis as well and more, as Newark Star-Ledger columnist Charles Taylor explains in a 2004 article for Salon.com:
‘…Think about what that reordering does, what it means to hear those words before the familiar ‘O beautiful, for spacious skies…’ Beginning with images of sacrifice and death, then moving on to a prayer that asks — with no guarantee of being answered — that those sacrifices not be in vain, Ray Charles implies that America must earn the verse that follows.’”
As popular as the song was prior to Ray Charles’ release, his emphasis on the military sacrifice required to ensure liberty, as the Taylor article notes, certainly put it in a new light. As noted yesterday, freedom is most certainly not free. The highest price required is and has been paid by the blood, sweat, and tears of the nation’s veterans and currently serving troops, but I believe we all can and should contribute to the burden in some way, however large or small as God leads us.
I pray that you enjoy your God-given rights and freedoms today in peace, security, and thankfulness.