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Anacreontic Song Analysis

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As a lawyer, Key took great care crafting his word choice for the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner. There is an inherent difficulty and artistry in composing lyrics to a predetermined tune. Specific to this case, a historical account of events had to be set to the sophisticated meter of “The Anacreontic Song.” Close examination of Key’s original manuscript [available at the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD] reveals areas in which Key painstakingly reworked his lyrics to fit the meter of the tune. Most notably the conclusion of the fourth verse “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And let this be our motto – “In God is our Trust” appears crossed-out and rewritten several times.
Much attention has been drawn to the lyrics of the lesser known, and rarely performed third verse of the Star-Spangled Banner. Here Key cites: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” The use of the word “slave” provokes a specific imagery in twenty-first century America. Historians, however, disagree on the implied meaning of Key’s text. Some feel the verse is a direct reference to the Corps of Colonial Marines, a group of black American slaves fighting for the British in exchange for their freedom, while others project more sinister intention in the utilization of the term “slave.” It is well documented that Key was a slave owner, protested the abolition of slavery, and as a lawyer persecuted several high-profile
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