Poem of the Week: The Star-Spangled Banner

It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone. Francis Scott Key, September 1814

Remembering the successful defence of Baltimore

By Roger Childs

May 29, is Memorial Day in the United States when all those who died fighting for their country are remembered.

This morning the first service in the world was held at the Marines Memorial in Queen Elizabeth Park, Paekakariki.

At the service, local college students provided a passionate rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. The song became the national anthem in 1931, well over a century after it was written.

The words have a strong military and patriotic flavour reflecting the events of the time it was penned.

The defence of Fort McHenry

The time was September 1814, and Britain was at war with the United States hoping to reclaim its former colony.

They seemed to be succeeding: Washington has been captured and many public buildings, including the White House, were set alight. Then the British launched a bombardment on Fort McHenry near Baltimore.

Local lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Key watched from the city and could see the American flag hanging over the fort. Next morning, when the bombardment was over and the flag was still flying, he knew that the attack had been repulsed.

This was the inspiration for The Star-Spangled Banner.

The Star-Spangled Banner

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 rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through 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,
In full glory reflected now shines in 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 footstep’s 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 freemen 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 power that hath made and preserv’d 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.

Francis Scott Key