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  1. #1
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    Default USA- National Anthem

    This is quite long but very educational, take the time to
    read it.


    By Isaac Asimov

    Introductory Note. Unless you're already well acquainted
    with our "national anthem," this interesting piece by the late Isaac
    Asimov will be an eye-opener. It was for me. It's especially
    appropriate at a time when there is much talk of tossing out this
    difficult-to-sing and difficult-to-comprehend old song in favor of
    something that better suits Ray Charles' voice. You'll understand the
    song much better after you read Mr. Asimov's explanation.

    I have a weakness--I am crazy, absolutely nuts, about our
    national anthem.

    The words are difficult and the tune is almost impossible,
    but frequently when I'm taking a shower I sing it with as much power
    and emotion as I can. It shakes me up every time.

    I was once asked to speak at a luncheon. Taking my life in
    my hands, I announced I was going to sing our national anthem--all
    four stanzas.

    This was greeted with loud groans. One man closed the door
    to the kitchen, where the noise of dishes and cutlery was loud and
    distracting. "Thanks, Herb," I said.

    "That's all right," he said. "It was at the request of the
    kitchen staff."

    I explained the background of the anthem and then sang all
    four stanzas.

    Let me tell you, those people had never heard it
    before--or had never really listened. I got a standing ovation. But it
    was not me; it was the anthem.

    More recently, while conducting a seminar, I told my
    students the story of the anthem and sang all four stanzas. Again
    there was a wild ovation and prolonged applause. And again, it was the
    anthem and not me.

    So now let me tell you how it came to be written.

    In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain,
    primarily over freedom of the seas. We were in the right. For two
    years, we held off the British, even though we were still a rather
    weak country. Great Britain was in a life and death struggle with
    Napoleon. In fact, just as the United States declared war, Napoleon
    marched off to invade Russia. If he won, as everyone expected, he
    would control Europe, and Great Britain would be isolated. It was no
    time for her to be involved in an American war.

    At first, our seamen proved better than the British. After
    we won a battle on Lake Erie in 1813, the American commander, Oliver
    Hazard Perry, sent the message "We have met the enemy and they are
    ours." However, the weight of the British navy beat down our ships
    eventually. New England, hard-hit by a tightening blockade, threatened

    Meanwhile, Napoleon was beaten in Russia and in 1814 was
    forced to abdicate. Great Britain now turned its attention to the
    United States, launching a three-pronged attack. The northern prong
    was to come down Lake Champlain toward New York and seize parts of
    New England. The southern prong was to go up the Mississippi, take
    New Orleans and paralyze the west. The central prong was to head for
    the mid-Atlantic states and then attack Baltimore, the greatest port
    south of New York. If Baltimore was taken, the nation, which still
    hugged the Atlantic coast, could be split in two. The fate of the
    United States, then, rested to a large extent on the success or
    failure of the central prong.

    The British reached the American coast, and on August 24,
    1814, took Washington, D. C. Then they moved up the Chesapeake Bay
    toward Baltimore. On September 12, they arrived and found 1000 men in
    Fort McHenry, whose guns controlled the harbor. If the British
    wished to take Baltimore, they would have to take the fort.

    On one of the British ships was an aged physician, William
    Beanes, who had been arrested in Maryland and brought along as a
    prisoner. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and friend of the physician, had
    come to the ship to negotiate his release. The British captain was
    willing, but the two Americans would have to wait. It was now the
    night of September 13, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry was about
    to start.

    As twilight deepened, Key and Beanes saw the American flag
    flying over Fort McHenry. Through the night, they heard bombs bursting
    and saw the red glare of rockets. They knew the fort was resisting and
    the American flag was still flying. But toward morning the bombardment
    ceased, and a dread silence fell. Either Fort McHenry had surrendered
    and the British flag flew above it, or the bombardment had failed and
    the American flag still flew.

    As dawn began to brighten the eastern sky, Key and Beanes
    stared out at the fort, trying to see which flag flew over it. He and
    the physician must have asked each other over and over, "Can you see
    the flag?"

    After it was all finished, Key wrote a four stanza poem
    telling the events of the night. Called "The Defence of Fort M'Henry,"
    it was published in newspapers and swept the nation. Someone noted
    that the words fit an old English tune called "To Anacreon in Heaven"
    --a difficult melody with an uncomfortably large vocal range. For
    obvious reasons, Key's work became known as "The Star Spangled
    Banner," and in 1931 Congress declared it the official anthem of the
    United States.

    Now that you know the story, here are the words.
    Presumably, the old doctor is speaking. This is what he asks Key:

    Oh! 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 rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there. Oh! say,
    does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free
    and the home of the brave?

    "Ramparts," in case you don't know, are the protective
    walls or other elevations that surround a fort. The first stanza asks
    a question. The second gives an answer:

    On the shore, dimly seen thro' the mist 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 on the stream 'Tis the star-spangled
    banner. Oh! long may it wave O'er the land of the free and the home
    of the brave!

    "The towering steep" is again, the ramparts. The
    bombardment has failed, and the British can do nothing more but sail
    away, their mission a failure.

    In the third stanza, I feel Key allows himself to gloat
    over the American triumph. In the aftermath of the bombardment, Key
    probably was in no mood to act otherwise.

    During World War II, when the British were our staunchest
    allies, this third stanza was not sung. However, I know it, so here
    it is:

    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 footstep's

    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.

    The fourth stanza, a pious hope for the future, should be
    sung more slowly than the other three and with even deeper feeling:

    Oh! 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 Pow'r that hath made
    and preserved us a nation.

    Then conquer we must, for our cause is just, And this be
    our motto--"In God is our trust." And the star-spangled banner in
    triumph doth wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    I hope you will look at the national anthem with new eyes.
    Listen to it, the next time you have a chance, with new ears.

    And don't let them ever take it away.

    --Isaac Asimov

  2. #2

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    Thanks for the article! I always tell people you can't just sing the first verse, because it's a question! You find the answer in the second verse. And the fourth verse is the hope for the future.

  3. #3

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    You know the first time I heard the "whole" national anthem was at a NFL game! I of course was singing along and then was looking around wondering if everyone was hearing what I was hearing....the rest of the song!! I was in tears by the time it was over.

    Thanks for that article!!

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