Oh What A Beautiful Morning


It was 50 degrees and the sun shining here on New Year’s Day. That’s a beautiful morning for this time of year in Ohio, not as beautiful as the one in the musical, “Oklahoma!” when “the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, and it seems to be climbing right up to the sky,” but beautiful for January. So I went to the barn singing that song, reminding myself once again of why I like it so much. My father used to sing it in the barn where he thought no one could hear him and we used to break up laughing at his performances. He could not carry a tune in a bushel basket and “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” is a difficult song to sing. In the very first line, all sorts of sly half notes and flats and sharps lay waiting to catch the wariest of voices. If you direct church choirs, the perfect way to audition singers is to have them sing that line. Anyone who can do it without accompaniment and nail every note exactly right,  especially on the first syllable of the word ‘morning’, then he or she can sing in anyone’s choir.

But that’s not why this song is so special to me. Its lyrics and that of other songs in “Oklahoma!” are just so very reflective of the farming spirit.  (I write about this at some length in my book, “The Mother of All Arts” if you’re interested.)  In addition to the lines above, there are others just as culturally perfect: “The breeze is so busy, it don’t miss a tree, and that old weepin’ willow is laughing at me.” Even the incorrect grammar is just right. Can you imagine anyone coming up with lyrics like that today?  Especially in the refrain of the song, this line:  “I’ve got a wonderful feelin’, everything’s going my way.”  No one today could write a song that happy. What we hear today mostly in our cowering, fearful environment is: “Uh- uh, baby- baby, eff- word, baby- baby, uh- uh. ”

Whatever happened to joy in this country?

More to the point, how could Oscar Hammerstein II write farm-genuine lyrics like that when I doubt he ever walked on a farm long enough to kick a corn cob.  So I did some research, and sure enough he didn’t. The inspiration for “Oklahoma!” and especially the song “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” came from an earlier Broadway musical, “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs and Hammerstein readily gave Riggs credit. Why is that so significant?  Lynn Riggs grew up a real farmer on his father’s ranch. He knew what it was like to ride out on a lovely summer morning to see the cows grazing, the corn waving, the sun-sparkled dew on the grass.  In his own work, he knew just how to describe that wonderful feeling of joy that all of us sometimes feel because we live in the sun and in the fields. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein had the skill to make that feeling more poignant for  everyone, but the original art came lock, stock and barrel directly out of agrarian life itself, out of OUR lives, all of you who stand by me on this website.

Happy New Year to all of you and may you all have reason to sing “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” all year long, even if you don’t hit all the notes quite square.


Just found your blog, it’s great! I often start humming “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” when I look outside for the first time when sunrise is just a few minutes away. My mother also hummed this song early in the morning. What a wonderful way to start the day!!

Yes Gene that’s him.
He’s was an amazing man and a very prolific writer. So much so that he was know as the “fastest typewriter in the West”.


Maybe the Mr. & I will try for Granville if the weather looks good & there’s a break in the lambing 🙂

Granny Miller: funny, I just ran into a quote from a Paige Smith book but with the spelling Page. Is that the same one. Must be because it was about chickens. He is identified as an historian. Same guy? Wish you could have stopped at the book fair. I will be in Granville, Ohio on Feb. 19 for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, annual conference, at the Granville Middle and High schools. I sit there all day gabbing and signing books.
Russ, yes, I don’t think of Oklahoma as the place where corn gets as high as an elephant’s eye either.
Neysa, I needed that reminder. I’m sure some new songs are happy songs. But I’ll tell you, my visits tothe concrete jungles of New York City were never happy. You must be one very happy person to derive joy from that setting. Dawn, Zippity Doo Dah is another of my favorites. Betty World, Tasha Tudor is one of my idols.
Thanks to all of you for such wonderful responses. Not to sound corny but you all really do revive my faith in mankind. Gene


Nice post as usual, but my comments this time are for Betty World.

Betty you hit the nail right on the head. I work off my farm to pay down debt, the mortgage and some equipment. One day soon I want to make the leap to my farm full time and some days I do get down. BUT then the peace of my farm fills me up making all the rest worth it. I farm 73 acres and raise a variety of livestock. I have been farming since I could walk…or for about 50 years now. Since 1992, my efforts have been poured into this place after a bankruptcy, failed marriage and a mountian of debt. I am finally getting it all under control. The journey has been a long one with many pitfalls, but through it all there was the love of a good woman and the joy of farming to sustain me.

Thank you for helping me to realize that no matter what… I have been a farmer all of my life. Even on the darkest days, I was given the blessing of my farm and family…and yes my off farm job sucks!

“I don’t feel weak, but i do need sometimes for her to protect me – and reconnect me – to the beauty that I’m missing. And in January we’re getting ( ready to celebrate 39 years of being ) married.”

I heard that song about a year ago on the radio and felt like it had been written just for me and the beautiful young woman who was crazy enough to marry me. Thanks Neysa.

No joy in music today! Come now …

“I’m coming back home tomorrow/ to 14th street, where I won’t hurry / where I’ll learn how to save not just borrow / and there’ll be rainbows.” –Rufus Wainwright, 14th Street

“She knows which birds are singin’/ and the names of the trees where they’re performin’/ in the morning/ and in January, we’re getting married” –The Avett Brothers, January Wedding

“New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made/ there’s nothing you can’t do, now you’re in New York/ these streets will make you feel brand new/ big lights will inspire you” –Jay Z and Alicia Keys, Empire State of Mind

In the spirit of your post, Gene, I’m a twentysomething farmer, and these are the songs of joy I sing when I think no one can hear me. Happy New Year!

Wonderful post, Gene…Maybe because I have kids, the song that comes to mind in the moments you talk of is “Zippity Do Da, Zippity Day” from Disney’s Old South. I have no idea what the full lyrics are and I don’t think I’ve even seen the movie, but the chorus always goes through my head on those bright spring mornings that seem so full of possibility.

Gene, for a contrarian blog, you sure have a lot of yes men! Where are the voices of opposition? Why won’t anyone speak out against beautiful mornings? Why won’t anyone point out how overrated joy is?
I guess my joy come in the form of sarcasm, which is why I must say just how full of it your latest book is.
By the way, I loved it, but my wife and kids won’t even say the title.
Enjoy the snow.

Joy comes from loving what you do and doing what you love–those words are such a cliche now that you really have to pause and let them sink in. For those of us who still have to work off our farms to make ends meet, we can sometimes lose our joy–thinking we “ought” to be able to make a living at farming and THEN we would be happy. But if farming is what we love, we will do it anyway for the sheer joy of it. You wouldn’t quit having sex just because you’re not a hooker!

A few of us can make a living at what we love–many of us cannot. But if we take joy in a thing, we do it anyway. To not find time for this is to deny ourselves joy. Maybe that’s why older people are happier? It’s easier for us to carve out this time. Kids grown, careers winding down or over.

It’s a shame our work places are so stressful and so inhumane. There are very few jobs that a person can fill and behave authentically while doing so. All the more reason to find a world of our own outside of work where we can take joy.

I have a VHS tape of Tasha Tudor called “Take Joy.” She was a commercial artist and thus able to make money and raise 4 children while doing what she loved. But she went beyond that and created her own world in which she lived as a person from the 1850s. She was criticized for doing so but countered with the fact that she didn’t care, she was quite happy.

Life is too short no not live joyfully–even if you have to create your own little world in which to do it;)

Regards from Betty World,

I agree with you Gene and the sentiments already expressed. I have a friend who introduced me to a phrase he picked up from the old Snuffy Smith comic strip. In the midst of a beautiful day and contented circumstances he says “On a day like this, A feller could live forever”. I like to think of that in the context of a line from an Alexander Pope poem; “and can the part contain the whole”. Thanks for the priestly homily on perspective and contentment.

By the way, I hestitate to sound like a grinch, but does it bother anyone else that the bucolic setting of the musical is Oklahoma? My few traverses of the state were very enjoyable, but did not impress me with the lushness of its corn crop.

To any of your readers who have never read your sublime essay “The Aim is Joy”, I would highly recommend it as a follow up to this one. It is linked on the OrganicToBe website’s home page with the top posts. It is magnificent.

My mom used to deliberately sing (screech is probably a better term) this song off-key and super-loud to get our Newfie (Newfoundland dog, that is) to howl along on command (Sing!) It was absolutely dreadful, but hilarious at the same time…

Happy New Year to you Gene. I believe it was you that said, “A BAD DAY ON THE FARM IS BETTER THAN A GOOD DAY AT THE FACTORY (or office)”. Truer words were never spoken. I distinctly remember my Father pausing after feeding the cows a little extra ground feed and a special meal of second crop alfalfa on Christmas Day and saying, “We are the luckiest people on Earth”. It is the same thing I tell my Son David often.

One of my favorite songs! and it just bursts out on a morning like you describe. May your New Year be filled with many such joys, Gene.

Gene – What a wonderful, beautiful post. No, I’m not a farm girl, ‘though my greatgrandparents raised veggies, grapes and chickens on their property in suburban NJ in the 40s-60s. I’m a Broadway girl who lives 12 mi from New York City and I agree with you completely on a musical basis. While my musical tastes are ecclectic, hip/hop, gangsta and rap are at the bottom of the list — because of the negativity, the violence, the insults to women of all ages; not that women belong on a pedestal. Respect, joy, community – some of the elements in Oklahoma! – are eternal. Like you, I say “Let’s pass it on”!

Joy isn’t fashionable any more, which is a real shame. Too many things, too much stuff, too little attention paid to loving kindness. I think joy comes as a result of hard work with the people you love for a common goal. There are few things as joyful as the peace of the barn at night when the day’s work is done and the animals are munching dinner, or leaning on the fence to watch a wobbly-legged new calf or colt. Peace and joy seem to go together–maybe that’s the other reason there’s too little joy. Human hearts have too little peace. Nice post, Gene!

Gene –
I just wanted to say that my husband & I did so want to meet you and thank you for your work at the Ohio Writers Book fair in the beginning of November.
We backed out at the last minute because we had no idea that the crowd would be so large (we both hate crowds). Maybe sometime in the future our paths will cross and we can say “hello” & “thank you”.
Again all the very best to you & your family in the New Year.
Katherine Grossman – a.k.a – Granny Miller

ps I’m not suggesting that you are old (although you are) by recommending Paige Smith. I just think you may really enjoy the book. The book is out of print but worth the effort to track it down 🙂

Gene –
Well Happy New Year to you too!

Speaking of joy…..I’ve been thinking about it too lately.
The late Paige Smith (of The Chicken Book fame)wrote many books, but one of my favorites of his is OLD AGE IS ANOTHER COUNTRY – A Travel’s Guide.
In that book, the chapter titled “Surprised By Joy”, Smith relates the story of a woman in her late 80’s who had sent the Smith’s a Christmas card. Her card touch him and he considered that she
“has had more than her share of buffetings from life, among them a series of major operations and a husband with Alzheimer’s. She wrote that, rather to her surprise, she found herself waking each morning with a joy at the day that lay ahead.”
Paige Smith (always the historian) concludes his musing in that particular chapter with,
“Besides having history to instruct us and delight us, we have nature to endlessly charm and heals us. Here again old age has a special relationship with nature. Perhaps because our days are more consciously numbered, the joys of nature seem ever richer and more abundant; what grows briefer grows dearer. So I understand and admire (and share) our old friend’s joy in life and know it to be one of those pleasant surprises of old age.”
If you’ve never read his book I recommend it 🙂

what did happen to all the joy in this country. when i go back to ‘civilization’ i get in trouble for smiling at people and saying hello. oh well. i sing in the barnyard too and my laughing makes the turkeys gobble. a friend of mine just taught me to greet the morning with “what a glorious day!” and so i do.

Thank you for the joyful post. I never gave that song much thought, but now that you mention it….

Joy is always about simple things and doing instead of having… isn’t it? Maybe that’s why we’re a little out of practice.

Happy New Year to all!

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