Friday, March 2, 2012

Our National Anthem


Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, 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.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

(Google Image) 
By Diane Forrest

If there is anything taken more seriously than the US flag, it's possibly the national anthem. The Star-spangled Banner accompanies just about every major American function, and at major sporting events a significant honor is bestowed on those asked to sing what is probably the best known national anthem in the world.

Listen closely to the words and it tells of a highly emotional moment in US history when the war with the British was being fought and of one man's relief in seeing the US flag still flying after a vicious bombardment.

Before the Battle
The War of 1812 had been a particularly nasty conflict with the British. They had burned down the Capitol and the White House in Washington, and were set on taking the port of Baltimore, which was protected in part by Fort McHenry, just to the south.

On September 7th, 1814, during the build-up to the attack on Baltimore, two Americans, Colonel John Skinner and a lawyer and part-time poet by the name of Francis Scott Key, had gone out to one of the British ships. They had come to negotiate the release of Dr William Beanes, a friend of Key who had been seized following the attack on Washington. The British agreed, but all three had learned too much about the forthcoming attack on Baltimore and so were detained by the British on board the frigate Surprise until it was over.

(Google Image) 
The Defense of Fort McHenry
The attack started on September 12th, 1814, and after an initial exchange of fire, the fleet withdrew to form an arc just outside the range of Fort McHenry's fire.

Skinner, Beanes and Key watched much of the bombardment from the British deck. The major attack started in heavy rain on the morning of September 13th. Just under three miles in the distance the three men caught glimpses of the star-shaped fort with its huge flag - 42ft long, with 8 red stripes, 7 white stripes and 15 white stars, and specially commissioned to be big enough that the British could not possibly fail to see it from a distance.

(Google Image) 
In the dark of the night of the 13th, the shelling suddenly stopped. Through the darkness they couldn't tell whether the British forces had been defeated, or the fort had fallen.
As the rain cleared, and the sun began to rise, Key peered through the lifting darkness anxious to see if the flag they had seen the night before was still flying. And so it was that he scribbled on the back of an envelope the first lines of a poem he called Defense of Fort M'Henry:

O, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming
As the mist started to clear he was aware that there was a flag flying - but was it the British flag? It was difficult to tell:
What is that which the breeze o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
But finally the sun rose, and with intense relief and pride he saw that the fort had withstood the onslaught ...
'Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

This song was originally written as a poem, but Key's words were later set to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven," a popular English song, and it became our national anthem was adopted as such in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson.  In 1931, it was declared by law by President Herbert Hoover that the Star Spangled Banner become the National Anthem.

(Google Image) 
The anthem is usually just sung at sporting events or government functions.  The past few years have been very frustrating since the performers have failed to remember the words to the song or tried to make new arrangements of it.   The recent passing of Whitney Houston reminded me of the year she sang the anthem at the Super Bowl.  It was the most memorable performance in the past 20 years, and listening to it brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.

Today is National Anthem Day, below is the verse written by Francis Scott Key, as you read over it, say a prayer for those who fought for our freedoms and who are still fighting today.

(Google Image) 

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, 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.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists 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 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 wash'd 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 doth 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 lov'd 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 preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause 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!

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