What a Wonderful World

Perhaps one of the most beautiful songs ever performed is Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” He recorded it during a time of great turmoil in this country, 1967, and the recording company’s president suppressed it in the United States, yet it reached the number one spot on the charts in England, topping them for thirteen weeks. Armstrong then recorded it in 1970 with a spoken introduction. Now the recording is famous all over the world. Why should we listen to this song, including his memorable introduction, and read its lyrics?

C. S. Lewis said, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with him. He walks everywhere incognito.” That is what this song does: provides a panoramic view of God’s incredible creation with its simple, yet profound words, reminding us of the beauty of our Heavenly Father’s love manifested in small things that we often take for granted. St. Therese of Lisieux said, “To do small things with great love.” This song expresses not doing but profoundly appreciating small things with love. And what is even more amazing is that God created it for us to share.

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

St. Augustine shares some interesting thoughts on God’s creation. “Does God proclaim Himself in the wonders of creation? No. All things proclaim Him, all things speak. Their beauty is the voice by which they announce God, by which they sing, ‘It is you who made me beautiful, not me myself but you.'”

I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The song continues to speak of the transcendent beauty of God’s creation. In Isaiah, we read, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 40: 28). Notice the last line in both of these verses? “What a wonderful world.” It expresses appreciation for God’s gift. Thanksgiving for the grandeur of life. “Rejoice always,” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying
“I love you”

Mother Teresa said, “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” We read, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). The opposite of love is division. St. Paul has strong words concerning it. “I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17). Mother Teresa reminds us, “Peace begins with a smile.”

I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more
Than I’ll never know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

When Armstrong originally read this verse, it reminded him of the neighborhood he lived in and the children in it, influencing him to record this song. “There’s so much in ‘Wonderful World’ that brings me back to my neighborhood where I live in Corona, New York. . . it’s like one big family.”

In response to complaints by young people about all the problems in the world at the time, Armstrong responded with a spoken introduction to the 1970 recording. “Seems to me, it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doin’ to it. And all I’m saying is, see, what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love baby, love. That’s the secret, yeah. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems. And then this world would be a gassuh.”

In an indirect way, the song speaks of God’s greatest commandments. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” We are reminded of our Heavenly Father through his creation, in the trees, and the roses and the sky and to love those around us. “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalms 121: 1-2).

When Armstrong recorded, “What a Wonderful World,” his health was on the decline. By modern standards, he didn’t have any fancy, flashing lights or dance moves. With his voice’s unique gravelly quality, he sang a tender, moving, love song, a heartfelt plea for love from his heart. It reminds me very much of the photo of Mother Teresa. She is quite elderly at that point. She wears no lipstick or eyeliner, yet the sweet expression on her face is one of transcendent beauty. In that photo, she looks like one of the most beautiful women in the world.

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Elizabeth Yank is a freelance writer who has been published in a number of Catholic publications, including Faith and Family, National Catholic Register, Lay Witness, and others.

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