July 12, 2016

Rethinking the National Anthem

I’m listening to (and sometimes watching) the interfaith memorial service being held in Dallas, Texas, for those police officers who died last week at the hands of a gunman.

The service began with the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner by the Dallas Police Choir.

I have always found our national anthem stirring, but I have felt a bit queasy about its association with warfare. I have even written my own candidate for a national anthem, “Out of Many, One,” which I thought better characterizes our nation. My text ends with
To our Republic, this we pledge:
For every challenge that awaits,
Free men and women will come forth
Whose work a better world creates.
With banner raised, with grateful hearts,
We honor these United States!
Today, however, I can see The Star-Spangled Banner in a new light. I can excuse the line of the third stanza,
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
because it does not capture the overall spirit of the text. The second verse offers a positive assertion to the question ending the first:
On the shore dimly seen through 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 in 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.
The theme of the anthem, then, is not conquest, but victory over adversity. It is about carrying on against overwhelming odds.

That is an appropriate theme for this afternoon in Dallas and, perhaps, an appropriate theme for the Republic as it enters its 241st year.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this sensitive reading of our national anthem. Considering the verses together helps me to see the song's meaning through a new lens: victory over advetsity.


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