One-Minute Book Reviews

August 15, 2008

Why ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is Bad Poetry and Other Literary Thoughts on the Olympics

Random literary thoughts on the Olympics:

1. Michael Phelps’s underwater dolphin kick is sports poetry.

2. NBC should fire the swimming analyst who keeps saying “he has swam” (as in “he has swam much better than this”).

3. The first word of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (“Oh”) is an example of the literary device known as anacrusis, a lead-in syllable or syllables that precede the first full foot.

4. The national anthem is written in anapestic meter, Dr. Seuss’s favorite. (What, you’ve never noticed the similarity between “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and “I meant what I said / and I said what I meant …”?)

5. Why is “The Star-Spangled Banner” bad poetry? Take in the last line: “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In a good poem, words are not interchangeable. You can’t switch them around with no loss in meaning or effect, because everything in the poem essential. Apart from a rhyme, what would the national anthem lose if Francis Scott Key had written “home of the free and the land of the brave” instead of “the land of the free and the home of the brave”?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

2 Comments »

  1. Because a land is bigger than a home, and not everyone who lives in that land and presumably with a home is necessarily brave?

    Comment by Amelia — August 17, 2008 @ 10:18 am | Reply

  2. Amelia —
    You could be right. My sense is that Francis Scott Key was using “home” in the sense of “homeland,” so that “home” and “land” have nearly identical meanings. But there’s room for interpretation here. I’d love to know what the scholars who have studied “The Star-Spangled Banner” have said.
    Jan

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — August 17, 2008 @ 11:03 am | Reply


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