Saturday, September 13, 2014

"What so proudly we hailed..."



“You underestimate the will of the American people, Doctor.”
He poked his finger in the air for emphasis. “When you push us,
we push back. Hard. John Bull cannot bully America into
surrendering now any more than you could forty years ago. Have
you already forgotten the lesson of Fort McHenry?”
He rummaged in his desk and pulled out a tattered newspaper,
much folded and creased.
“My mother sent this to me with the letters, a newspaper from
home. A Mr. Key wrote a poem about the battle, Doctor, titled
‘The Defence of Fort McHenry.’ Look here—‘the land of the free
and the home of the brave.’ That’s America, Charley! I won’t ask
you to drink to an American victory, but you won’t mind if I have
a tot?”
David poured himself some rum while humming a tune.
Charley listened, her head cocked to the side.
“I know that tune—I heard it in the inn where I waited to board
the Lady Jane. It is ‘To Anacreon in Heaven,’ is it not? I recall the
people who attempted to navigate its melody often failed
miserably.”
“Maybe it’s a song best attempted while drinking for the full
effect. But I’m told it is now popular in Baltimore with lyrics
based on Mr. Key’s poem—‘And the rockets’ red glare…’”
Charley snickered as his voice strained through the notes.
"That tune will never catch on, Captain. Certainly not the way you sing!
Best you stick to sailing your ship.”
--Sea Change 

This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Ft. McHenry where an attorney named Francis Scott Key was negotiating the release of American prisoners from the British. He wasn't allowed to leave the British ship in Baltimore Harbor while the battle raged, and he watched through the night, inspired to write a poem about the events he'd witnessed during the bombardment.

The rest, as they say, is history. We sometimes joke about "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the difficulty of hitting the high notes, but there's no song in America that evokes the same mixture of patriotism and memory.  It is fitting that we salute our national anthem on its bicentennial, and raise a glass in salute to Mr. Key, the defenders of Ft. McHenry, and the Star Spangled Banner.


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