‘A New National Anthem‘ talks about the controversial third verse removed from the National Anthem. That verse celebrated the death of the freed American slaves who fought alongside the British against the Americans in 1812.
Explore A New National Anthem
‘A New National Anthem‘ is a poem that turns the reader’s attention to the now-removed third verse of the National Anthem.
In the first part of the poem, the speaker tells us how she has never really cared for the national anthem, how she once sang it at a high school homecoming, and the band, which she called “tenacious,” went off-key.
The second part is where the questions start coming. First, the speaker (who doubles as the poet) asks about the controversial third verse that was removed from the National Anthem. The verse is seen as celebrating the death of former American slaves.
‘A New National Anthem‘ champions the unity of its citizens, and the speaker looks forward to a world where the new National Anthem would represent every citizen of the nation.
Structure and Form
‘A New National Anthem‘ is written in free verse. It does not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. It is a fairly simple poem expressing anger and dissatisfaction- that the now removed third verse existed in the first place.
The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always, there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
The speaker starts by saying that she does not like the National Anthem. She gives her reasons for this—she thinks it’s not particularly a good song and that it’s too high for most of them. She also complains that there is always war and bombs and that she once made the school band go off-key when she sang it. Well, it is mostly sung just as a habit. People mouth it just before the main event, but only a few take out time to critically analyze it.
From the way the speaker talks about the National Anthem, she really doesn’t care so much about it, except for the part that was removed- the third verse. It is condemned for talking about how no refuge could save the hireling and the slave. The speaker asks about this verse.
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps,
and isn’t that enough?
Here, the speaker brings in rhetorical questions. She goes on to reveal further the problem with the third stanza, which seems to be the case for every third stanza of a song for her country- they remain unsung. Before it was removed, some would just mouth the words, without stopping to think and ask questions. The speaker captures this by mentioning that those brutal parts are sung blindly, with the team drinking and hoping that they win, and not even a thought is given to those lines, what they mean, and what that verse spells for the country.
The speaker seeks to correct an impression. She says she does like the flag and what it stands for when it is not being used as a weapon. Imagery is employed here. Words like windlike, brought to its knees, clung, flickers, and so on are used in creating a vivid picture of what is being described- the flag in different positions.
The speaker goes on to say that the flag can be kept until one can love it again, and the song begins to make sense. A song that does not dehumanize or discriminate to lift people up, and people can turn to any time- that is a better song. For now, the speaker would probably continue not to like the song to be sung and would continue to question the inclusion of the now-excluded third verse.
The tone of ‘A New National Anthem’ is angry. The poem is an outcry. It expresses anger at the controversial third verse removed from the National Anthem. The verse is seen to be celebrating the death of the freed American slaves who fought alongside Britain against America during the War in 1812.
‘A New National Anthem‘ explores the theme of injustice. The third verse that was removed from the National Anthem was unjust and shouldn’t have been conceived in the first place.
‘A New National Anthem‘ is a poem of lamentation. The speaker (who also happens to be the poet) is not happy about the third verse that was removed from the National Anthem. Her problem with it is not that it was removed; it is that it existed, to begin with.
The inhumanity exhibited in the now-removed third verse of the National Anthem inspired Ada Limón to write ‘A New National Anthem.’ She hopes that there will be a new National Anthem, one that unites and represents every citizen of the nation.
Anyone who found Ada Limón’s ‘A New National Anthem‘ thought-provoking would likely enjoy these:
- ‘And Still I Rise‘ by Maya Angelou is a masterpiece about how self-respect and pride in oneself help one rise above the challenges that come one’s way.
- ‘I Hear America Singing‘ by Walt Whitman talks about how everyone contributes in one way or another to America.
- ‘I have a dream’ by Martin Luther King Jr. is a public speech that calls for an end to racial discrimination in the United States.