My Country 'Tis of Thee
Rethinking our national anthem
The other day, I was introduced to a national anthem that begins with the question, “Where is my home?” Intrigued, I needed to know more. Here is the first verse:
Where is my home, where is my home?
Water bubbles across the meadows,
Pinewoods rustle among crags,
The garden is glorious with spring blossom,
Paradise on earth it is to see.
And this is that beautiful land,
The ____ land, my home. (country redacted b/c I want you to guess)
Isn’t that beautiful? Wouldn’t you love to have that as a national anthem? I mean, it sounds like our home in the U.S., yes? Actually, it’s pretty similar to America the Beautiful:
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
I’ve always wished America the Beautiful was our country’s anthem. Not only is The Star Spangled Banner difficult to sing, it also commemorates a bloody battle.
The World Atlas describes a national anthem as a song or composition that “represents the tradition, history, and beliefs of a nation and its people.” It inspires patriotism and unites citizens.
A national anthem reflects what a country holds most dear. It stylizes the country’s values. Maybe that’s part of our current problem. As a country that is 246 years old, perhaps it’s time we shift our focus. Time to celebrate the beauty and bounty and blessings of our country instead of revolution and bloodshed. Maybe? What do you think?
Do you know all the verses to America the Beautiful? Neither do I. This is why I was pleasantly surprised to learn this is one of the verses:
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
Just imagine if we had all grown up singing this at every baseball game.
This is kind of embarrassing but I have to say, even Russia’s national anthem is a bit better than The Star Spangled Banner, (in my opinion).
From the southern seas to the polar edge
Our forests and fields are spread out.
You are the only one in the world! You are the only one -
the native land so kept by God!
A wide scope for dreams and for life
The coming years open to us.
We are given strength by our fidelity to the Fatherland.
So it was, so it is and it will always be so!
(Chorus- sung first, last, and between the two verses:)
Be glorified, our free Fatherland,
The age-old union of fraternal peoples,
Ancestor-given wisdom of the people!
Be glorified, country! We are proud of you!
Okay, maybe it’s propaganda – Russia is certainly not a “free” fatherland and yes, “we are given strength by our fidelity” sounds a bit like brainwashing by American standards. But the idea of history and unity and “a wide scope for dreams and for life” sure sounds nice.
Ukraine’s anthem is closer to our own, at least in spirit. And, considering that Ukraine is presently fighting for its democracy and freedom, it’s an appropriate rallying cry.
But do we, here in America, really need this imagery? I’m sure you love the melody of The Star Spangled Banner - it’s hard not to when you’ve heard it your entire life. But look closely at the words, beyond the first verse and refrain…
O! 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;
O! say, does that Star-spangled Banner still wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
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 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 washed 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 loved homes and the foe's desolation;
Bless'd with victory and peace, may our Heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just --
And this be our motto -- "In God is our trust!"
I just can’t get past this line: “Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just.” It sounds an awful lot like some other rhetoric being thrown around these days. The same battle cry of the medieval crusades as well as the attempted coup of January 6, 2021.
So, again, what do you think? Yay or nay to our current national anthem? Does it glorify war? Maybe contribute to our nation’s obsession with guns?
I started with the anthem that begins, “Where is my home?” This song belongs to the Czech Republic. It derives from the Czech opera “Fidlovačka”, which was written and performed in 1834. When Czechoslovakia dissolved in 1993, it became the national anthem of the new Czech Republic but with only the first verse remaining. You can listen to it here:
*special thanks to Joshua Dolezal, The Recovering Academic, for introducing me to the Czech Republic national anthem.