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Star Spangled Banner Story

Star Spangled Banner Story

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Published by Katie Peacock

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Published by: Katie Peacock on Nov 26, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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12/04/2012

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The Star 
-  
Spangled Banner 
 
If there is anything taken more seriously than the US flag, it's possibly the national anthem. TheStar-spangled Banner accompanies just about every major American function, and at major sporting events a significant honour is bestowed on those asked to sing what is probably the bestknown national anthem in the world.
 
Listen closely to the words and it tells of a highly emotional moment in US history when the war with the British was being fought and of one man's relief in seeing the US flag still flying after avicious bombardment.
 
Before the Battle
 The
War of 1812 
had been a particularly nasty conflict with the British. They had burned down theCapitol and the White House in Washington, and were set on taking the port of Baltimore, whichwas protected in part by Fort McHenry, just to the south.On September 7th, 1814, during the build-up to the attack on Baltimore, two Americans, ColonelJohn Skinner and a lawyer and part-time poet by the name of Francis Scott Key, had gone out toone of the British ships. They had come to negotiate the release of Dr William Beanes, a friend of Key who had been seized following the attack on Washington. The British agreed, but all threehad learned too much about the forthcoming attack on Baltimore and so were detained by theBritish on board the frigate
Surprise 
until it was over.
 
The Defense of Fort McHenry
 The attack started on September 12th, 1814, and after an initial exchange of fire, the fleetwithdrew to form an arc just outside the range of Fort McHenry's fire.Skinner, Beanes and Key watched much of the bombardment from the British deck. The major attack started in heavy rain on the morning of September 13th. Just under three miles in thedistance the three men caught glimpses of the star-shaped fort with its huge flag - 42ft long, with8 red stripes, 7 white stripes and 15 white stars, and specially commissioned to be big enoughthat the British could not possibly fail to see it from a distance.
 
In the dark of the night of the 13th, the shelling suddenly stopped. Through the darkness theycouldn't tell whether the British forces had been defeated, or the fort had fallen.
 
 As the rain cleared, and the sun began to rise, Key peered through the lifting darkness anxious tosee if the flag they had seen the night before was still flying. And so it was that he scribbled onthe back of an envelope the first lines of a poem he called
Defense of Fort M'Henry 
:
 
O, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming 
 As the mist started to clear he was aware that there was a flag flying - but was it the British flag?It was difficult to tell:
 
What is that which the breeze o'er the towering steep,As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses? 
But finally the sun rose, and with intense relief and pride he saw that the fort had withstood theonslaught ...
 
 
'Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The poem
Keys, Beanes and Skinner were taken by the British back to shore on Friday, September 16th. Inhis room in the Indian Queen Hotel, Keys completed all four verses of the poem, and thefollowing morning he took it to his brother-in-law, a local judge, who thought it so good that hearranged to have it printed as a handbill. Printing was completed by Monday morning, and thecopies were distributed to everyone at the Fort.
 
Key made a number of hand-written copies of his original poem, introducing occasional changesas he did so. But it wasn't just Key that made alterations; various editors along the way have alsohad a hand in altering spelling, punctuation and even the words. The original text of the poem has therefore varied depending on where you read it.
 
The tune
It is possible that Key only ever intended this as a poem; there was nothing in his original notes tosuggest a tune. However, there was a very popular tune of the time, which Key would have beenfamiliar and for which had been written many differents sets of words. Perhaps the most notableof these was Robert Treat Paine's ode,
Adams and Liberty 
, written for the MassachusettsCharitable Fire Society in 1798. All these songs had the same very distinctive form and metre,and there can be no doubt that Key was heavily influenced by it (and may even have had it inmind).
 
When the handbills were printed, they did bear the name of this tune to which the poem shouldbe sung - 
.Somewhat ironically, this is a song written for a British drinkingclub!
 
The Anacreontic Society 
was a popular genetlemen's drinking club, based in a pub in the Strand,London. The words of the song had been written by the society's president, Ralph Tomlinson, butthe tune is more of a mystery. At one time, the English composer 
Dr Thomas Arnold 
was thought to be its composer - Arnoldhad written numerous songs for the society. However, it is now accepted that the tune wasprobably written collectively by a group of members, led by
John Stafford Smith 
, probably in1771.
 
The poem and tune become an anthem
 
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it should become the National Anthem playedby the military and naval services, but it wasn't until March 3rd, 1931 that it was officiallydesignated as the National Anthem by act of Congress:
 
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the composition known as The Star-spangled Banner is designated as the National Anthem of the United States of America.
In the third verse of the poem, Key expresses his particular bitterness towards the British:
 
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution No refuge could save the hireling & slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave 

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