Oh, Why Can’t They See?

The Star-Spangled Banner

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 thru 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 through 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?

( The flag that flew over the fort was enormous. The commander of Fort Henry, George Armistead had commissioned Mary Pickersgill to make “a flag so large that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.” The flag could be seen from several miles away and Francis Scott Key was saying that it could be seen in the last light before nightfall and the first light at dawn. The ‘perilous fight’ was the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. The Star Spangled Banner was streaming over the ramparts (battlements) of the fort.The “rocket’s red glare” and the “bombs bursting” used alliteration to describe the cannon fire pounding from the British navy and the cannons firing from the fort. One of the ships was armed with a rocket launcher. The angry red glow from the cannon fire enabled Americans to see their Star Spangled Banner was still flying – the British had not captured the fort and hoisted the Union Jack. The Star Spangled Banner was waving over the ‘land of the free’ – a reference to the fight for Independence that had resulted in freedom from the tyranny of the British. The ‘home of the brave’ lyrics reflect the heroic exploits of Americans to defend their country. The War of 1812 was popularly known as the ‘Second War for Independence.’)

The Star-Spangled Banner (Verse 2)

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! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

( Francis Scott Key was describing the perspective from the land as Americans looked out to hazy images of the British ships. The ‘foe’s haughty host’ lyrics describe the vessels of the arrogant British. The lyrics ‘dread silence reposes’ express the view of the ships that look quiet and still as if resting, but are actually a hive of terrifying activity. Francis Scott Key describes the high vertical position of the flag over Fort Henry in the lyrics ‘o’er the towering steep’ and the movement of the flag blowing in the wind, concealing then revealing the Star Spangled Banner. The sun comes out and clearly shines on the Star Spangled Banner, ‘in full glory’ lyrics express the grandeur of the flag and a religious connotation. Francis Scott Key almost makes the Star Spangled Banner lyrics ‘cheer’ using the patriotic words “Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave. O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”)

The Star-Spangled Banner  (Verse 3)

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 washed 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!

( Francis Scott Key describes the British as arrogant and boastful in the lyrics ‘that band who so vauntingly swore.’ He is venting his anger at the British with the “foul footsteps’ pollution” lyrics inferring that the British poisoned the ground on which they walked. But the poison and corruption had been washed away by the blood of the British. The Star Spangled Banner lyrics “the hireling ” refers to the British use of Mercenaries (German Hessians) in the American War of Independence. The Star Spangled Banner lyrics “…and slave” is a direct reference to the British practice of Impressment (kidnapping American seamen and forcing them into service on British man-of war ships). This was a Important cause of the War of 1812. Francis Scott Key then describes the Star Spangled Banner as a symbol of triumph over all adversity.)


The Star Spangled Banner  (Verse 4)

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home 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, 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!

( Pride and Patriotism is the theme of the last verse. Francis Scott Key uses emotive words such as ‘freeman’, ‘home’, ‘blest’, ‘victory’, ‘triumph’, ‘conquer’ and ‘peace’ in the Star Spangled Banner lyrics. He was a deeply religious man and his words reflect his belief that God was on the side of the Americans. He refers to the American nation and fighting for a just cause.The words “In God is our trust” combines the concepts of religion and patriotism and are believed to be the origin of the official motto of the United States “In God we trust”. The unofficial motto of ‘E pluribus unum’  was adopted when the Great Seal of the United States was created in 1782.)

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