September 14, 2011

By the dawn's early light

British ships had been bombarding Baltimore's Fort McHenry the entire night but, in the early morning hours of September 14, 1814, the lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key saw that the American flag still waved above the fort. Key had been dispatched earlier to negotiate the release of American prisoners; though the request was granted, the British would not release their prisoners until after the battle. Key had watched helplessly from the sea as Fort McHenry was bombed. Proud that his fellow Americans had not given up, he began writing a poem about this key battle in the War of 1812 that morning. Originally named "The Defense of Fort McHenry," the poem soon became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner" and, sung to the tune of a drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven," it became the National Anthem in March 1931.

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, through 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 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;
Its 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 the band who so vauntingly swore,
  Mid the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country they'd leave us no more?
  Their blood hath 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 freeman shall stand
  Between our loved home and the war's desolation;
Bless'd with victory and peace, may the heaven 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 thestar-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
  O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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