Skip to comments.An Anthem Switch?
Posted on 07/02/2009 10:21:46 AM PDT by NYer
Although I have lived in the Washington, D.C., area since 1984, I am an orthodox Baltimorean by birth, nurture, education, baseball loyalties, and a settled disdain for offering tartar sauce with crab cakes. So I should be the last person to think the unthinkable about my native city’s principal contribution to American public culture (after, of course, the Colts’ sudden-death victory over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL championship game). Nonetheless, I shall risk the charges of heresy and treason by proposing the following thought experiment: as America celebrates Independence Day, let’s ponder a switch in national anthems, substituting “America the Beautiful” for the poem Francis Scott Key wrote during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor during the War of 1812.
Older readers and Americana buffs will remember that “The Star-Spangled Banner” won the title of national anthem in a close Congressional vote, nipping “God Bless America” at the wire in 1931. Since then, the anthem — which ranges over an octave and a half and is thus unsingable by anyone beside children, virtuoso sopranos, and castrati — has been vocally mangled by patriotic Americans from, er, sea to shining sea. The severe difficulty of singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” properly is the strongest argument in favor of replacing it. (That the tune to which Key’s poem was set, “To Anachreon in Heaven,” was originally a London drinking song is not a disqualification for right-thinking Catholics, although it might vex some of the evangelical brethren…)
Veterans of the Baltimore Catholic schools of the 1950s once knew three stanzas of Key’s lyrics; I venture to guess that less than 1/10 of 1 percent of my fellow-countrymen know anything beyond the first stanza today-if even the full first stanza is widely known. It would be a shame if it weren’t, though. For the “Star-Spangled Banner”’s best claim to canonization is that the stanza we all (try to) sing ends with a question, which is an appropriate way to end the national anthem of a democracy. Why? Because democracy is always something of an experiment. “Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” — the question poses itself today, just as it did under the rockets’ red glare in 1814, and just as it will pose itself in every future generation.
“America the Beautiful” would, arguably, be a better national anthem, not because it’s less bellicose — it isn’t, with its paean to “heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life” — but because it’s eminently more singable. Moreover, Katherine Lee Bates’s lyrics acknowledge that the wonder of America is a gift of God’s grace, while reminding us that to be a nation “under God” means being a nation under judgment. Thus the fine second stanza — the one you get to after extolling “purple mountain majesties” (please note: not “purple mountain’s majesty”) — teaches us the always useful lesson that faith, reason, freedom, and the rule of law go together in a national experiment that also has the character of a pilgrimage:
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America, America, God mend thine every flaw;
Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!
Bates’s unapologetic linking of the American democratic experiment with divine providence, divine guidance, and divine judgment probably renders “America the Beautiful” unacceptable to today’s secularist thought-police and their allies in the federal courts; one can easily imagine the ACLU contesting “America the Beautiful”-as-national-anthem on the grounds that singing about God shedding his grace on the United States violates the First Amendment (just as one can imagine certain parties deploring the notion that God’s grace is “his” grace).
So swapping Keys for Bates is an idea whose time may not yet have come — and the shades of Baltimoreans past can rest easy. Still, both anthems, with their stress on sacrifice for the common good, give us something to think about, come the Glorious Fourth.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the U.S. national anthem is eventually switched to, (music) “I’m coming out, so you better get this party started...”
The question is answered in the second verse.
It’s refreshing to hear a “let’s change the anthem” piece from someone other than an ardent leftist.
That said, I agree that “America the Beautiful” is a better choice than the current anthem. Key’s poetry is poor and, even if it were good, is tied to the War of 1812 and martial themes. I’m not averse to some war imagery, but it’d be preferable to talk about America’s other fine aspects, too.
Even more clear, IMHO, is that the current anthem is nearly unsingable. “America the Beautiful” is easier on the vocal cords and, in my opinion, the ears too.
Still, I don’t lose any sleep over the current anthem being what it is. When folks get all angry about it, for or against, I think they need to have a lemonade and come watch a ball game with me. Whatever we sing before the game, America is still the same great nation.
I always did like America the Beautiful.
Though the current is good as well, I doubt that changing the anthem would do anything to “improve patriotism” because, lets face it, chances are getting slimmer and slimmer that the country CAN be turned around w/o bloodshed.
This again. Comes up every year about this time. Without going into specifics, try to imagine how fast the ACLU would challenge any song that mentioned God, even one as traditional as that. They don’t even want it on coins. If they ever read the last verse of the Star Spangled Banner their heads would explode.
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n-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 forever shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
I bet the references to "heav'n-rescued," "Praise the Power" and "God" contained therein would get a condemnation from our current Supreme Court and render it unconstitutional.
Therefore, I propose that this verse be sung at all baseball, football games and all public events.
This verse certainly expressed my sentiment when I was living in Germany in the 1960's and 1970's. I especially developed a craving for tacos, burritos, fired chicken, and steak.
Albert Brooks covered this topic very well years ago. You can find his take on YouTube is you search for Albert Brooks Rewriting the National Anthem.
At least Key didn't refer to "alabaster cities."
THE DEFENSE OF FORT MCHENRY
O 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 free-men 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 Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d 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
—Francis Scott Key, 1814
There are many ways in which poetry can be poor, most of which are up to subjective judgment anyway. Key’s is poor largely because his sentence structure seems a mix of Hegel and Yoda.
The line, “no refuge could save the hireling and slave” in the third verse seems to have been inspired by Job 7:2—”As a slave earnestly desires the shadow, and as an hireling looks for the reward of his work...”
Any change during the Obama administration would be to the Internationale.
I think a lot of poetry is silly if we’re honest. Most of the time no one knows what the hell it means - it’s inherently subjective and ambiguous and usually only the author knows. People quote poets to make themselves sound more intelligent - to demonstrate their superior understanding of the philospohical and existential. I find the poetry that is meaningful to be the poetry that’s meaning is clear, and thus probably ‘poorly written,’ to the poetry crowd - no doubt kin to the same people who stand in modern art galleries marveling at a blank canvas or a colored geometric shape. That’s just me however.