“The Star Spangled Banner” and respect for that National Anthem has been the focus of considerable news coverage this summer, and even more discussion on social media.

Professional football players, in particular, have inadvertently drawn more attention to the patriotism shown by others, than they have drawn to the types of discriminations they protest.

In any case, Americans who are otherwise inspired to honor “The Star Spangled Banner” now have reason to express their patriotism with renewed vigor.

I have no proof, but it seems that the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance are the two historic pieces of literature from our nation’s history that Americans know best know by heart. The Preamble of the Constitution (“We the People…”) and the opening phrases of the Declaration of Independence (“When in the course of human events…”) are familiar, but few of us can recite the rest of those historic proclamations without some prompting.

By contrast, most of us have no trouble singing the words of the National Anthem or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. We recite one or the other frequently at sporting contests, community programs and other events. The tune to the National Anthem is as familiar as any we know, although hitting the high and low notes can be a challenge. Only the most skilled vocalists dare to sing this is public. Some believe this is reason to choose a different tune, like “God Bless America” or “America,” as a substitute, but there is an analogy found in such a level of difficulty. Freedom — just like singing the song — isn’t easily achieved.

Those eight lines of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” sung before ball games are heard so often, it is easy to overlook their meaning. What’s more, we forget that they are only the first of a much longer patriotic poem. We do the work a disservice by forgetting the other three stanzas.

The discussion underway about honoring the National Anthem is quite timely. The poem was written on Sept. 14, 1814 — 202 years ago this week — by Frances Scott Key. He was a lawyer and amateur poet who watched British ships bombard Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. Those words were set to the tune of “The Anacreontic Song,” or “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a British song already popular in the United States written by John Stafford Smith for a men’s social club in London. Key was inspired to write it when he saw the stars and stripes still flying over the fort after the American victory.

Multiple researchers note that until 1931, other songs served as “official” national hymns. “Hail Columbia” was used at most official functions through the 19th century, even though Key’s version was recognized by the U.S. Navy in 1819. “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” was also a popular choice.

President Woodrow Wilson opted for “The Star Spangled Banner” in 1916, and it became the National Anthem after President Herbert Hoover signed Congressional resolution passed March 3, 1931.

You know the tune, and you know its history. I offered these verses here a couple of years ago, but they are worth another look. So, before the next game begins, pause and study these words in their full context, with thanks to the National Association for Music Education National Anthem Project for their text.

 

n n n

 

O! 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 through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rockets’ 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 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.

 

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.

Blest with vict’ry 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!

 

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at gdeason@brownwoodbulletin.com.