This song [written for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Danebod Folk Meeting in 2021] is not just a tribute to the early Danish settlers on the great American prairie. I think of it more as a bittersweet acknowledgment that, as substantial as their achievements were, those settlers built their lives on a foundation of both cultural and ecological disruption. For instance, it is not an accident that we sing about the farmer’s gratitude to God (and presumably his pride in his own industriousness) in the same stanza that reminds us of the Lakota pony (now vanished) and the rich native prairie habitat (now destroyed). I hoped that those who sing this song will think about their heritage, recognize both the positive and negative aspects of it, and dream about building a future that (somehow) atones for the past wrongs that helped create our current prosperity.
The song is intended to be sung to the tune of the pop-folk song "I'll Never Find Another You." That song was written by Tom Springfield in 1964 and became a hit for the the Seekers in 1964-65. (I think of the Seekers as the Australian Peter, Paul, and Mary.) Sing along with this instrumental version on YouTube. Lyrics are below.
There was rich land waiting, Five thousand miles away; And our great grandparents Wept tears, but could not stay In that ancient northern kingdom, So lovely and so small – When they heard the endless prairie’s lonely call.
Then where once the larkspur, Wild rose, and sorrel blew; Where Lakota ponies Brushed through the morning dew; Now two oxen pulled a steel plow And broke the prairie sod, And a sweating farmer thanked his gracious God.
No more endless prairie, But endless prairie sky; Let our dreams for tomorrow Soar on high, soar on high.
Those vast seas of grasses Will never roll again - For the wild rye and the bluestem Were of no use to men; But their wheat and oats and barley Bought house and church and town, And this new land sown with dreams was now their own.
Meadowlark and sparrow Still sing their ancient song, And we too share our voices With generations gone, Their old songs are ever with us, But new songs will arise, And our dreams will soar across the endless skies.