With the excitement of Independence Day celebration still fresh in our minds, a look at the words and meaning of our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, seems appropriate. The Star-Spangled Banner is not the easiest song for most people to sing, and many get the words mixed up. However, an in-depth look at the words reveal the story declared in song about the United States' flag. According to an article, The Star-Spangled Banner-A Tutorial, by Robert Edwin, it's easy to follow the words once you know the details of the scene being depicted.
The setting is Baltimore, Maryland in September 13, 1814. The United States is at war with England. Lawyer Francis Scott Key is negotiating the release of a civilian prisoner of war. Key is taken out on a frigat on the Cheasapeake Bay to barter the emancipation while at the same time a 25-hour attack on Fort McHenry in the Baltimore Bay is occurring. British mortars and rockets bombard the fort. As the sun is coming up the next day, Scott observes the huge 30' x 42' foot United States flag, still flying over Fort McHenry. Inspired, he writes a song, The Defence of Fort McHenry, using the tune from To Anacreaon in Heaven. Keys' song is popular, but does not become the United States' National Anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, until 1931.
Now that you know the setting, see if you can answer the questions using words from the song:
Q1. What time of day is it?
Q2. What are you trying to see?
Q3. When was last time you saw the flag?
Q4. What did the flag look like?
Q5. What is the status of Fort McHenry? Captured? Surrendered? Free?
Q6. Why does the first verse end in a question?
A1. It is early morning - "O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light?"
A2. You are trying to see the flag - "What so proudly we hailed..."
A3. You last saw the flag as the sun set - "...at the twilight's last gleaming?"
A4. The stars, and red and white stripes were visible, and waving - "Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o'er the rampart we watched, were so gallantly streaming."
A5. The Fort held strong - "And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that our flag was still there."
A6. Key, not being a military man, is not sure who has won the battle so he asked the question. The words of the second verse answer his question: On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep....in 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!