The Fourth of July
Americans celebrate the birthday of their country every July 4. This is done with parades, picnics, personal firecrackers, and public fireworks. And everywhere can be seen the distinctive red-white-blue of the American flag. As visitors to the U.S. have remarked, the American flag is flown more than most national flags. The anthem representing this flag is sung at all sorts of public events: from baseball games to political rallies to the starting line of marathon races. While you may know the melody (from the medals ceremony at the Olympic Games), you may not be familiar with the lyrics.
Today’s flag has 50 stars. In 1814, the flag had only 15 stars.
THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER
(the U.S. national anthem)
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 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?
There are three other verses to the American national anthem, but most citizens only learn the first. If you wish to see the other verses, go here.
lyrics = the words to a song
spangled banner = flag decorated with bright, glittery objects
anthem = song of loyalty, pride, or allegiance
hailed = greeted
twilight = the illumination of the sky just after sunset
gleaming = shining
perilous = dangerous
o’er = over (literary abbreviation for songs or poems)
ramparts = military barriers made of stone or earth
gallant = brave, proud, dignified
streaming = flowing (here: waving)
glare = strong, bright shining light
bursting = exploding
This song was written during the War of 1812 by American Francis Scott Key. On the night of September 13, 1814, Key was on board a British ship during the Battle of Baltimore. Helpless to do anything, Key could only watch while the British ships bombed the American forces at Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor. When the smoke cleared, Key was able to see an American flag still waving. On his way back to Baltimore, he was inspired to write a poem describing his experience, “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” which he published in The Patriot one week later. It eventually became 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 and then by a Congressional resolution in 1931.
Most Americans know Francis Scott Key wrote the words to the “Star-Spangled Banner,” but few know where the melody came from. It turns out the melody was used in dozens of songs in the 1700s, and at one time, it was a drinking song. Here is an article that tells more about it. Click here for the melody.