Happy birthday, America!

After witnessing the British Royal Navy's bombardment of Fort McHenry in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812, a lawyer and amateur poet named Francis Scott Key was inspired to write a poem called "Defence of Fort McHenry." The poem was actually written in 1814 and was later set to the music of a popular British song from a men's social club in London. The song was called "To Anacreon in Heaven."

That popular tune was employed in the service of many lyrics over the years, but once used for Key's poem, it was renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner" and was eventually made the national anthem by congressional resolution on March 3, 1931.

From time to time, you hear people grousing that this song is just too hard to sing and that the anthem should be changed to something easier like "America the Beautiful," but I hope that never happens. I quite like "The Star-Spangled Banner" with its history and its message of patriotism.

Most people are probably unaware that there are actually four verses to the song. They are lucky to know the first or sometimes the first and last, but those two middle verses are almost never sung. Just for today, though, because it is the nation's birthday, here are all of the verses, as Francis Scott Key wrote them 199 years ago.

The Star-Spangled Banner lyrics
by Francis Scott 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 thru 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 through 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?

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! Oh 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!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory 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!

Happy birthday, America, and may your Star-Spangled Banner forever wave over a land of freedom.


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