Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lessons from the Star-Spangled banner

On Sept 13, 1814 there was a man named Francis Scott Key, a lawyer aboard a British ship, he was there to defend an man who had been arrested in Maryland, however the bombardment of Fort McHenry was about to start. Key along with the other men saw the American flag flying at the fort. Through the night they heard bombs bursting and saw the red glare of rockets. They knew the fort was resisting and the American flag was still flying..But toward morning the bombardment stopped and there was silence either, the Fort had surrendered and the British flag flew or the bombardment had failed and the American flag was still flying. As dawn began to brighten the eastern sky, Key stared out at the fort, trying to see which flag flew. The men kept asking each other, "Can you see the flag"? After it was all finished, Key wrote the four stanza poem telling the events of the night. Called "The Defence of Fort McHenry," It was published in newspapers and someone noticed the words fit an old  English tune called "To Anacreon in Heaven" a difficult melody with an uncomfortable vocal range. For obvious reasons, Keys work became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner," and in 1931 Congress declared it the official anthem of the United States. Here is the words to all four stanzas which not to many people have ever really heard.

Oh! say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
Oh! say, does that star- spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Ramparts in case you don't know are the protective walls or other elevations that surround a fort. the first stanza asks a question. The second gives an answer:

On the shore, dimly seen thro' the mist of the deep,
where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner. Oh! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!!

"The towering steep" is, again the ramparts. The bombardment has failed, and the British can do nothing but sail away, their mission a failure. In the third stanza Key allows himself to gloat over the American triumph. A little added tidbit, during World War II, when the British were our staunchest allies, this third stanza was not sung. However here it is:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The fourth stanza, a pious hope for the future, should be sung more slowly, and with deeper feeling:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation,
Blest with vict'ry and peace,may the Heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just,
And this be our motto----"In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In view of the Fourth of July just around the corner I thought you might enjoy this bit of information and would hope that you will look at the National Anthem with new eyes, and listen to it with new ears.

Excerpts taken from and article written in readers digest years ago.

1 comment:

Mari said...

I love hearing the story of different songs. This was very touching!