As you’re raising that Star-Spangled Banner in the front yard this Sunday or driving out to Captain Jim’s to buy some Black Cats and Roman Candles for your fireworks display, you might find yourself humming along to our national anthem as the patriotic fever of the good ‘ol USA spreads this 4th of July.
Other than it being the only holiday that’s identified by it’s date more often than it’s true title, Independence Day, July 4th is often associated with celebrations, fireworks, and all things red, white, and blue. Another Independence Day favorite is the playing of our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” by Francis Scott Key.
Francis Scott Key was known as a district attorney, patriot, but also, poet. Even though Key is often called merely an ‘amateur poet,’ he still is one of history’s most famous and heroic writers.
Indeed, the “Star-Spangled Banner” was originally a poem before it was set to a tune. The poem, ”Defence of Fort McHenry” was written when Key was trying ‘to negotiate the release of prisoners’ during the War of 1812, but then once he and others had “become familiar with the strength and position of the British units and with the British intent to attack Baltimore. . . Key was unable to do anything but watch the bombarding of the American forces at Fort McHenry during theBattle of Baltimore on the night of September 13–14, 1814. (Source: Wikipedia).”
At dawn, Key was able to see an American flag still waving and reported this to the prisoners below deck. On the way back to Baltimore, he was inspired to write a poem describing his experience, “Defence of Fort McHenry”, which he published in the Patriot on September 20, 1814. He intended to fit it to the rhythms of composer John Stafford Smith’s ”To Anacreon in Heaven“, a popular tune Key had already used as a setting for his 1805 song “When the Warrior Returns,” celebrating U.S. heroes of the First Barbary War. (Key used the “star spangled” flag imagery in the earlier song.) It has become better known as “The Star Spangled Banner“. Under this name, the song was adopted as the American national anthem, first by an Executive Order from President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 (which had little effect beyond requiring military bands to play it) and then by a Congressional resolution in 1931, signed by President Herbert Hoover.
So while you’re watching the fireworks over the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers this 4th of July, remember how poetry influenced our nation’s anthem. If you have any Independence Day poetry you’d like to share, send it to email@example.com for a chance to be published in the Alton paper, The Telegraph.
Have a fun and safe Independence Day from The Telegraph.
For the Words.