Monday, September 14

Forgotten Stanzas

The War of 1812 was fiercely raging when Francis Scott Key, a Washington attorney was sent to the British naval command to secure the release of a prisoner when the fleet began to bombard the placements of American fortifications in Baltimore at Fort McHenry. Key had to watch in agony, wondering if his nation could possibly withstand such a barrage.

Though the battle raged through the night, the American defenses stood firm. The sight of the flag still flying over the fort the next morning inspired the young lawyer to pen the immortal words of the Star Spangled Banner—on this day in 1814.

Later it was set to a popular English hymn tune, Anacreon in Heaven, and it became a standard in the patriotic repertoire. Congress officially confirmed it as the national anthem more than a hundred years later, just before the First World War.

Though the first verse of the anthem is quite well known—sung at the opening of most political and sporting events—the other verses are almost entirely forgotten:

O! 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 rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there:
O! say, does the star-spangled banner still wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through 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, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is the band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country would leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ 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 cloth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the foe’s desolation;
Bless’d with victory and peace, may our heaven rescued land
Praise the Power 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 shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

1 comment:

Bruce J said...

I agree with you about the forgotten stanzas (though thankfully the important final verse is sometimes heard). But, to go slightly off topic, there are some details of the song's story that are often missed or mistaken, which you may find of interest.

First, "Anacreon of Heaven" was never a "hymn tune". But neither does the common appellation "drinking song" quite describe it. What is most significant in this context is that it was a popular tune at the time, and had been used as the setting for several patriotic songs in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Also, it is quite clear Key himself wrote these verse with that very tune in mind.

This last point is evident from the unusual meter and rhyme-scheme of the song which perfectly fit the familiar tune.

But there is another reason we know he intended this tune, and it relates to the fact that some of the key imagery, including this image of the flag was not original with this song. Rather, Key was borrowing from his own work of nine years earlier - specifically from "When the Warrior Returns", written (to the same tune) for a dinner in honor of Stephen Decatur, hero of the First Tripolitan War (vs. the Barbary Pirates) upon his return.

A key clip from that 1805 song:
 And pale beamed the Crescent, its splendor obscured
   By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.
 Where each radiant star gleamed a meteor of war,
   And the turbaned heads bowed to its terrible glare. . . .

See more here:

(One other minor detail - recognition of our national anthem came from President Wilson in 1916 [not precisely 'before WWI,' though before the U.S. entered it], and was made fully official by a Congressional resolution signed by Hoover in March 1931.)