Skip to comments.Star Spangled Banner - Isaac Asimov
Posted on 07/22/2004 6:15:21 PM PDT by steplock
Isaac Asimov - The National Anthem
|All Four Stanzas
I have a weakness--I am crazy, absolutely nuts, about our national anthem.
The words are difficult and the tune is almost impossible, but frequently when I'm taking a shower I sing it with as much power and emotion as I can. It shakes me up every time.
I was once asked to speak at a luncheon. Taking my life in my hands, I announced I was going to sing our national anthem--all four stanzas.
This was greeted with loud groans. One man closed the door to the kitchen, where the noise of dishes and cutlery was loud and distracting. "Thanks, Herb," I said.
"That's all right," he said. "It was at the request of the kitchen staff."
I explained the background of the anthem and then sang all four stanzas.
Let me tell you, those people had never heard it before--or had never really listened. I got a standing ovation. But it was not me - it was the anthem.
More recently, while conducting a seminar, I told my students the story of the anthem and sang all four stanzas. Again there was a wild ovation and prolonged applause. And again, it was the anthem and not me.
So now let me tell you how it came to be written.
In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain, primarily over freedom of the seas. We were in the right. For two years, we held off the British, even though we were still a rather weak country. Great Britain was in a life and death struggle with Napoleon. In fact, just as the United States declared war, Napoleon marched off to invade Russia. If he won, as everyone expected, he would control Europe, and Great Britain would be isolated. It was no time for her to be involved in an American war.
At first, our seamen proved better than the British. After we won a battle on Lake Erie in 1813, the American commander, Oliver Hazard Perry, sent the message "We have met the enemy and they are ours." However, the weight of the British navy beat down our ships eventually. New England, hard-hit by a tightening blockade, threatened secession.
Meanwhile, Napoleon was beaten in Russia and in 1814 was forced to abdicate. Great Britain now turned its attention to the United States, launching a three-pronged attack. The northern prong was to come down Lake Champlain toward New York and seize parts of New England. The southern prong was to go up the Mississippi, take New Orleans and paralyze the west. The central prong was to head for the mid-Atlantic states and then attack Baltimore, the greatest port south of New York. If Baltimore was taken, the nation, which still hugged the Atlantic coast, could be split in two. The fate of the United States, then, rested to a large extent on the success or failure of the central prong.
The British reached the American coast, and on August 24, 1814, took Washington, D. C. Then they moved up the Chesapeake Bay toward Baltimore. On September 12, they arrived and found 1000 men in Fort McHenry, whose guns controlled the harbor. If the British wished to take Baltimore, they would have to take the fort.
On one of the British ships was an aged physician, William Beanes, who had been arrested in Maryland and brought along as a prisoner. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and friend of the physician, had come to the ship to negotiate his release. The British captain was willing, but the two Americans would have to wait. It was now the night of September 13, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry was about to start.
As twilight deepened, Key and Beanes saw the American flag flying over Fort McHenry. 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 ceased, and a dread silence fell. Either Fort McHenry had surrendered and the British flag flew above it, or the bombardment had failed and the American flag still flew.
As dawn began to brighten the eastern sky, Key and Beanes newspapers and swept the nation. Someone noted that the worstared out at the fort, tyring to see which flag flew over it. He and the physician must have asked each other over and over, "Can you see the flag?"
After it was all finished, Key wrote a four stanza poem telling the events of the night. Called "The Defence of Fort M'Henry," it was published in ds fit an old English tune called "To Anacreon in Heaven" --a difficult melody with an uncomfortably large vocal range. For obvious reasons, Key's work became known as "The Star Spangled Banner," and in 1931 Congress declared it the official anthem of the United States.
Now that you know the story, here are the words. Presumably, the old doctor is speaking. This is what he asks Key
Listen to the Star Spangled Banner
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 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
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 more but sail away, their mission a failure.
In the third stanza, I feel Key allows himself to gloat over the American triumph. In the aftermath of the bombardment, Key probably was in no mood to act otherwise.
During World War II, when the British were our staunchest allies, this third stanza was not sung. However, I know it, so here it is
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 than the other three and with even deeper feeling.
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 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.
I hope you will look at the national anthem with new eyes. Listen to it, the next time you have a chance, with new ears.
And don't let them ever take it away.
--Isaac Asimov, March 1991
Listen to the Star Spangled Banner Courtesy of the USAF Heritage of America Band
Thanks. I enjoyed that.
I am a musician and have played the anthem many times. I didn't know there were any more verses other than the first until my children sang them all at a Sept. 11 rememberance service in 2002. We should be teaching this to all our nation's children.
Thanks! The history and the music will come in handy at our annual commemoration of 9/11.
I also led the congregation in the Pledge of Allegiance since I am the ranking veteran in the church. There were only 10 of us Vets. I tried to defer to the senior enlisted since he is a Korea Vet, but he wouldn't accept. Given some of our former congregation members, (MOA and Army Cross) it is a shame that I am SOPA.
Since 9/11, I ONLY sing the 4th verse when one verse is being sung. I get strange looks at ballgames until I explain about the WTC. After that, there is NEVER a problem.
Garde la Foi, mes amis! Nous nous sommes les sauveurs de la République! Maintenant et Toujours!
(Keep the Faith, my friends! We are the saviors of the Republic! Now and Forever!)
LonePalm, le Républicain du verre cassé (The Broken Glass Republican)
Understood and copied. Thank you.
Reading the verses of The Star Spangled Banner make me get teary-eyed.
This is good, thanks for posting it for us.
How is that I can just be la ti da going through my day and yet find myself a bit choked up just reading the words. Hearing it, of course, can be incredibly intense. Some way, some how, nearly every time before the song is over, there will be a moment for me of watery eyes and lumped throat. It is damn near as sure as gravity.
On a lighter note, anyone else here ever been known to abruptly change channels when it's time for the SSB pregame or whatever simply cuz they don't want to get all sappy? I'll admit to it.
"And this be our motto--"In God is our trust.""
This song runs rings around the politically correct "America the Beautiful."
It describes how we won our freedom - with guns, and guts and the help of Almighty God. (The War of 1812 has been termed "the Second American Revolution").
Too bad most Americans don't know the whole song.
Thank you so much for posting that.
Isaac Asimov was a VERY SPECIAL PERSON in our Day--especially to those Few of us who actually Knew Him!!
It Meant a LOT to us that he actually "Dissected & Layed out" the "Star Spangled Banner" for us (IGNORAMI!!)!
Isaac ACTUALLY SHOWED US WHY we were SO LUCKY to live in America.
We grew up in a Time of Peace--Purchased by the Lives of Tens of Thousands of our Countrymen.
To This Day, we seem unaware of the "Blood Cost" of the Freedom we enjoy.
We Seem to have FORGOTTEN the BLOODY COST of the "Free Society" we now enjoy.
& we Just Can't Seem to Understand that there are DANGEROUS RELIGIOUS PSYCHOPATHS who will try to Destroy us--BECAUSE we are "Happy & Free!!"
OUR VERY EXISTENCE is a "MORTAL THREAT" to Those who Believe that the "Normal Human Condition" is Misery & Death.
If Such a "Conflict" weren't Real, Most Sane People would regard it as a JOKE!!
SOMEHOW, however, we are ALL expected to "Face" "Powerful Forces" who tell us that our "Hopes are in Vain,"--& all we "Strive For" is "Dust!!"--that the "Forces" which Oppose Us are FAR TOO POWERFUL, & we Shouldn't Strive to Survive.
Thanks! I read this when it was published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Before I read it, I though "America the Beautiful" was a more proper anthem. After reading it I knew better.
A few years later (1995 or 1996) I ran off copies and passed them around at work. It got a pretty good reaction.
Thanks for the words,we need to see them much more frequently. Our great country must survive!
That sounds like a sound prescription to me Doc.
I remember the version that was played in the Washington DC/Annapolis area radio stations that had an orchestral version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" playing in the background of the speech.
Some Have "Forgotten That" WE are the "Good Guys!!"
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