The most patriotic national anthem?

How About “Rocky Mountain High?”

By Forrest Whitman

“Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself has said, this is my own my native land, this is my native land.” We’ve just celebrated Independence Day, July 4. Many a soul was feeling patriotic, including mine. We all feel good about the country as the national anthem is sung and the fireworks go off. But, here and there the “other” national anthem, America the Beautiful was sung. Of course, Colorado has our state anthem too, or really two anthems. Which anthems we like say something about our idea of the U.S.A. and of the columbine state too.

“Where the columbines grow” or “friends around the campfire?”

The first official state song in our columbine state was written by A.J. Flyn and adopted in 1915. It’s a lilting waltz. I’ve just listened to a group of grade school kids singing it online. The song, Where the Columbines Grow, speaks of moonlight on the mountains, groves of aspen, and the loveliness of our state. There’s some mention of pioneers coming and finding it all so lovely they had to stay.

It wasn’t until 2007 that we decided we needed a second state song. That was, of course, Rocky Mountain High, by John Denver. Those of us around then remember that there was some controversy about the song. Our kids sang it in school, but one school board member objected. She thought it might refer to a chemically induced high. There is that great verse, It’s Colorado rocky mountain high/ I’ve seen it rainin’ fire from the sky/ friends around the campfire and everybody’s high/ Rocky Mountain high. Actually, as john Denver said, “It’s poetry. You do with it as you like.”

What’s a poet to do?

John Denver was appointed Poet Lureate of Colorado in 1974. The namer was none other than moderate Republican governor John Vanderhoof, who had no qualms about any of the lines or about John Denver joining the likes of great poets of the past. The state house in Denver is adorned with the poems of those figures such as Thomas Hornsby Ferril’s poem Water which is depicted up the central staircase. Vanderhoof figured Denver needed to be among the greats. John Denver was also a good guy.  President Jimmy Carter named him head of a world hunger project. He jawboned companies into giving up stores of food for drought ravaged areas, and also traveled widely on behalf of the U.S.A. I once met a pilot who said Denver loved every kind of plane and had an airplane in his soul. Sadly that love ended the life of John. He was flying an experimental plane when he crashed to his death.

America the Beautiful

  America the Beautiful the “other” national anthem is quite different from good old The Star-Spangled Banner (the official one) with “O say can you see by the dawn’s early light…” The official anthem was written by Francis Scott Key as a paean to the American troops holding out at Fort McHenry near Baltimore in the War of 1812. It’s definitely a war song. There are plenty of rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air there. America the Beautiful, on the other hand, is more peaceful in nature. Here we see alabaster cities, fruited plains, and hear of a “patriot’s dream.” Katharine Lee Bates, in her poem penned in 1893, writes of spacious skies and amber fields of grain. She’s obviously counting our blessings as a nation. But here’s more: She’s also talking about respect for law and mending America’s flaws. That’s interesting since we don’t hear about mending any flaws in the official one. Her poem America was combined with Samuel Ward’s music and first published in 1910 as America the Beautiful.

Thy Liberty in Law

  When it comes to national flaws, Bates was well aware of the long list. She was a feminist, but saw her dreams for woman’s equality getting nowhere. She wanted international peacekeeping groups to make a difference. But, U.S. policy in her era assumed us to be omnipotent and the rest of the world needed to comply with our orders. Those attitudes are pretty dated today, but it was the attitude in her time. This was the background for her lines,  “Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in Law.”

The old tension still exists and shows up in the difference between our two national anthems. On the one hand, we are still “the greatest power on earth” and our flag is still there. But, we don’t always manage to do much in the self-control department. We say we’re law abiding, but the famous secret court (created in 1978) issues lots of orders with no public debate and hearing only from the government. In fact, the FISA court issued 1,800 edicts last year and never has turned down a government request. We’ve long known that the National Security Agency (NSA) knows everything about us as ‘Ol Santa does. They know when you are sleeping and they know when you’re awake. They know if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for security sake. Obviously, a good many think the FISA court has helped stop terrorist attacks. We’ll never know if that’s true. Civil liberties groups argue that all courts should be open and public even as they debate surveillance cases. That would seem to fall under the heading of “self-control and liberty under law.”

Which Anthems Do You Like?

  We all have to decide this one for ourselves. Does the older Colorado anthem stir us better than the one written by John Denver? Does the Katharine Lee Bates anthem stir the soul like the one by Frances Scott Key? No one has a soul so dead that he or she doesn’t feel patriotic when the anthems are sung or read. That was for sure on July 4th.

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