Through my eye

A sometimes caustic view of things.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Another look at the Star Spangled Banner

Sometimes we need to be reminded of certain things. Few people know all the lines of the Star Spangled Banner. Few people understand the circumstances under which it was written.

Oh, they know the part about Francis Scott Key watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry while he was detained on a British warship overnight. But few know or recall that the United States was in its second year of war with the most powerful country in the world, one with the biggest navy and a professional army. And while the small United States Navy had had some startling victories against British warships when they fought on equal terms and American privateers were successful in hurting British merchant shipping, the American Army had had limited success and had failed in all its major objectives.

By September of 1814, the British forces had blockaded America's major ports, had invaded communities along the coast, pillaging and raping the inhabitants in some cases, had captured and burned Washington, D. C. and held the eastern half of Maine. A British army was poised to invade New York from Canada and a British fleet was sailing from Europe with veterans of the war against Napoleon to invade the Mississippi valley by way of New Orleans.

No one realized or could conceive that the British had reached their high water mark in the Americas when they attacked Baltimore and Ft. McHenry. The invasion from Canada was defeated on September 11th by American naval forces on Lake Champlain, thwarting the attack on Plattsburgh, N. Y. This news did not reach the rest of the country for a few days.

Ft. McHenry held on April 15th and American militia met the British army outside Baltimore and fought them off.

The news of the combined defeats reached Europe as quickly as a ship could carry it. Britain and America were negotiating for peace at Ghent in Belgium. The Americans were prepared to be humbled, the British to demand that the US accept the loss of territories held by British forces. Those two victories changed all that. Peace was made on Christmas Eve, 1814, with the US returning to its pre-war boundaries, but no concessions by Britain on the impressment of seaman on board US vessels at that time (one of the reasons the US went to war).

Once again, because news traveled slowly, Americans were thrilled and the British dismayed by a wholesale defeat by Andrew Jackson of the British army's attempted attack, January 8th, 1815, on New Orleans. American naval forces and frontier militias continued to fight for months following the peace agreement.

Americans of all political persuasions realized that the nation could no longer hold to some of the principles of the founders, that having a strong defense was the only way to hold the respect of more powerful nations. Congress authorized a standing army of 10,000 men and a permanent navy, which James Madison signed into being.

All this makes Francis Scott Key something of a prophet, doesn't it.

One thing for sure, the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem, as difficult as it may be to sing, was born in battle, on one of the darkest nights in our history. Its words--all of them--have stood the test of time. Below is my humble attempt to interpret and comment on the anthem during one of our darkest moments in recent history. Considering what happened to Osama bin Laden, in his unmarked and watery grave, I was a bit of a prophet myself.



THE DEFENSE OF FORT MCHENRY
(The Star Spangled Banner)

Poem by Francis Scott Key
Sept. 16, 1814
Additional lines out of time and tune
by Charles Griffin
Sept 14, 2001

(To be read by two voices, one pure and sweet, the other a rough gravel)


Oh, 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,
thro' the perilous fight,
o'er the ramparts we watched,
were so gallantly streaming?


***
Came a morning when we waked
to the horror of destruction,
borne by terrorists,
bound to bring fear to our hearts.
We watched buildings fall and people;
day became night in clouds of debris
and the proud banner fell,
buried under the weight of our dismay.
A day and a night of horror
and endless waiting
while rescuers fought and died
to save those who were lost;

***
And the rockets 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?
On the shore dimly seen,
thro' the mists of the deep,
where thee 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.


***
On the second day the flag was found
beaten down and covered with dust
and firemen raised it up over their heads
on a pole found amidst the rubble.
In the homes of the foe,
whether near or in lands far away,
they watched in growing horror
as we shook the dust from that flag.

***
"Tis the star-spangled banner;
Oh, 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?

***
In the gleam of rescue lights,
through the streams of poisoned smoke,
the star-spangled banner continues to wave
over the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Now they flee their dens and havens,
looking skyward for the surest of fates,
the sons of hate run before the storm
their own fanaticism brewed.
The benefits of peace will return to the world
over the unmarked graves of our enemies.

***
Their blood was 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 thee star-spangled banner,
in triumph doth wave,
o'er the land of the free,
and the home of the brave.
Oh, thus be it ever,
when free man shall stand,
between their loved homes,
and 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,
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.

1 Comments:

At November 5, 2011 at 5:34 PM, Blogger nodsavid said...

Yes, Francis Scott Key was a prophet. All he foresaw came to past and now comes the future and other prophets. The age of the mega corporations and wedge issues that divide all of us on that which is most important--the liberty and freedom of us all. Now we are traversing a deep chasm of greed that threatens to engulf all the dreams previously foreseen.

 

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