Editorial

Our anthem

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

First it was the flying of the Mexican flag at immigrant rallies seeking access to U.S. rights and privileges that concerned many Americans. Now the singing of our national anthem in Spanish has many Americans up in arms. If you're going to sing our national anthem, they say, sing it in English.

That's a good point. More disturbing than translating the anthem into Spanish, however, is the fact that some recent versions in Spanish also change the message, making the "Star-Spangled Banner" a call for freedom for oppressed immigrants.

The national anthem has become a touchstone of patriotism as the issues of illegal immigration, amnesty and the future of up to 11 million undocumented immigrants mingle. Curiously, many of those fired up about the Spanish translation aren't all that well-versed about the English version.

What we know today as our national anthem is a poem written -- 117 years before it was made our national anthem -- by Francis Scott Key during the 1814 shelling by the British of Fort McHenry, one of the forts defending Baltimore. Key had secured the release of a friend being held by the British but was detained aboard a ship in the harbor while the fighting raged. The next morning, the sight of the U.S. flag still waving over the fort inspired Key to write his poem, "Defense of Fort M'Henry."

The poem was immediately popular, and it was later sung to the tune "To Anacreon in Heaven," most likely written around 1780 by John Stafford Smith for a poetic tribute to an ancient Greek poet and sung by a club of amateur musicians in London.

In 1861 the poem was translated in German. In 1919 the Federal Bureau of Education translated it into Spanish. During the 2000 presidential campaign, candidate George W. Bush sang the anthem in Spanish while wooing Hispanic voters. Last week, President Bush said the national anthem ought to be sung in English.

A National Anthem Project poll indicates two-thirds of Americans aren't all that familiar with the English version. They were unable to sing or recite the entire first verse, the one traditionally sung whenever the anthem is performed in public. Thirty-eight percent of those polled didn't know the official name of the anthem -- "Star-Spangled Banner."

And for anyone who's interested, the national anthem has three more seldom sung verses:

On the shore dimly seen thro' 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 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!

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 wash'd 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.

O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand

Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation;

Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land

Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd 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!

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: