The closing hymn at Wyatt Bragdon's baby-dedication ceremony yesterday was "America," more commonly known (and in fact listed in the hymnal) as "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."
Most Americans can sing this verse by heart without giving a thought to what the words mean:
My native country, thee,
land of the noble free, thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
thy woods and templed hills;
my heart with rapture thrills, like that above.
So what, Jen wanted to know, is a rill?
A rill is a brook, small river or rivulet. The Cobbosseecontee, across from my apartment, is big to be called a "rill," but you could stretch the word to include it.
The Reverend Samuel Francis Smith wrote the lyrics to the American version of the song in 1832, before moving up to Waterville, Maine -- so the song has special resonance in this part of the country. I'm not sure that Smith even knew, when he wrote the words, that the tune belonged to the British first, as "God Save the King/Queen." He found it in a book of German songs a friend had brought back from Europe, and was inspired to write his lyrics after translating the German poem that had been set to the tune.
This entire week, I think, will be Independence Day-related questions. It was one of my favorite holidays as a child, and I still love it, despite -- well, despite. G.K. Chesterton put it better than I could:
"My country, right or wrong" is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying "My mother, drunk or sober."
My mother, drunk or sober.