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More interest attaches to this stirring poem than ever before, since the United States army has recognized it as our national anthem. General Orders No. 201 of the War Department, published December 15, 1906, contains the following regulation :
Whenever The Star-Spangled Banner is played by the band on a formal occasion at a military station, or at any place where persons belonging to the military service are present in their official capacity, all officers and enlisted men present stand at attention, and if not in ranks render the prescribed salute, the position of the salute being retained until the last note of The Star-Spangled Banner. The same respect is observed toward the national air of any other country when it is played as a compliment to official representatives of such country. Whenever The Star-Spangled Banner is played as contemplated by this paragraph the air is played through once without the repetition of any part, except such repetition as is called for by the musical score.
The effect of this order is not confined to military circles, but it is the custom in many parts of the country for the audience to rise and for gentlemen to remove their hats whenever The Star-Spangled Banner is played. It is now very generally accepted as the American national air.
The poem was written by Francis Scott Key on Wednesday morning, September 14, 1814, when the British forces were attacking Baltimore (War of 1812). The flag referred to was flying over Fort McHenry. Key was temporarily a prisoner on the British flagship Surprise (later transferred to a cartel or ship for the exchange of prisoners), where he had gone to secure the release of his friend, Dr. Beanes, a prominent physician of Upper Marlborough, Maryland. Fort McHenry was bombarded all day Tuesday and Wednesday, and at the same time a land attack was being made on Baltimore. The land attack failed and the British decided that retreat was inevitable unless the fort were taken. At one o'clock Wednesday night a tremendous fire, at close range, was opened on Fort McHenry; five hundred bombs fell within the ramparts and many more burst over them. The firing was at such close quarters that dense smoke enveloped both fort and ships from midnight till morning. John C. Carpenter, in the Century Magazine, July, 1894, says: “The long hours were unbearable. Key had seen the fate of Washington and anticipated the fate of Baltimore. At seven the suspense was unrelaxed. The firing from the fleet ceased. The large ships loomed indistinct and silent in the mist. To the west lay the silent fort, the white vapor heavy upon it. With eager eye Key watched the distant shore, till in a rift over the fort he dimly discerned the flag still proudly defiant. In that supreme moment was written The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The song was printed in broadsheet form in the office of the Baltimore American, the type being set by a boy of twelve, all the other printers having gone to the defense of the city. It was sung in all the camps around the city, and soon spread over the country. The tune is a vagrant air, familiar in many countries.
THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER
1 O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last
gleamingWhose broad stripes and bright stars, through the per
ilous 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; O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On that shore dimly seen through 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, now conceals, now 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; O long may it 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 victory and peace, may the hear'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.
-Francis Scott Key.
Read Drake's The American Flag in this volume and Ryan's The Conquered Banner.
TO A WATER-FOWL
On December 15, 1815, William Cullen Bryant walked from his home at Cummington, Mass., to Plainfield, Mass., to begin the practice of the law. He was 21 years of age—the age when every thoughtful young man's mind is an interrogation point, the age when he is asking a thousand questions which cannot be answered. Bryant had spent two years at Williams College and had planned to continue his studies at Yale, but was not financially able to do so. He wanted to be a poet, and had already written Thanatopsis (with the exception of the last paragraph, which was not written until he was twenty-eight), but he knew that he could not make a living out of poetry; he wanted to be an
editor, but there were few editorial openings those days; and so, with many misgivings, he decided to try his hand at the law. Evening came on as he walked across the Massachusetts hills that December day, pursuing his solitary way, "lone wandering," "feeling forlorn and desolate” as he says in a published letter, and in the sky above him he beheld a wild duck that had become separated from the southward-winging flock and seemed to be wandering in its course. Doubtless the young poet said to himself, "I am like that wild duck; I, too, am wandering.” That night he wrote Lines to a Waterfowl. The wild duck was an interpreter of the present meaning of life to him. From that day—when as a poor boy he was questioning what life had in store for him until he became recognized as the first citizen of New York, the founder of American poetry, and as Lincoln said, worth a trip across the continent to shake hands with—the lesson of trust expressed in the last stanza was his guiding motto. For sixty-three years— till his death in 1878—he held firmly to the faith of this poem of his youth.
TO A WATER-FOWL
1 Whither, midst falling dew, While glow the heavens with the last steps of day, Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?