The Often Ignored (or Forgotten) Meaning of our National Anthem

American troops cheer on the Star Spangled Banner (Fort McHenry National Monument handout).
American troops cheer on the Star Spangled Banner (Fort McHenry National Monument handout).

We’ve heard the National Anthem thousands of times. We’ve sang the Star Spangled Banner just as often. But how many realize just what the poet was getting at when he initially penned his verse?

Initially written by Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key as a poem entitled The Defence of Fort McHenry, Key sought to immortalize the bravery of American troops during the British attack on Baltimore’s main defensive position during the Second War of American Independence (aka: The War of 1812).

Admittedly, I’m taking license on what would eventually become known as The Star Spangled Banner, as well as eventually become our National Anthem. For what it’s worth, this is what I believe Key was trying to tell us:

“O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,”

The sun’s just beginning to rise. Do you still see what we were happily cheering on hours ago when the sun was setting?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?

It’s been one lousy night to say the least. But we still see those oversized stars and stripes snapping in the wind as we were hunkered down in our fighting pits fearing for our lives.

And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;

The enemy fire has been so intense that all night long there’s enough illumination to plainly see our flag was never lowered in surrender.

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

That was then, this is now. Does the American flag still fly over a free country populated by brave people?

And for those who so desire (and brave enough) to tackle the rest of The Defence of Fort McHenry, here are the remaining stanzas;

On the shore dimly seen through 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 in 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 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.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation! Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation! Then conquer we must, when 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.

The Defence of Fort McHenry. (Wikimedia-Commons)
The Defence of Fort McHenry. (Wikimedia-Commons)

For the truly fearless songbirds, the Georgia Tech Glee Club is seen below in full English Drinking Song mode, taking on To Anacreon in Heaven.

To Anacreon in Heaven (“Free Bird” it ain’t). To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a petition;
That he their Inspirer and Patron wou’d be;
When this answer arrived from the Jolly Old Grecian;
“Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
No longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I’ll instruct you like me, to intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine!”

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