2nd stanza of "The Star-Spangled Banner":

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! Oh long may it wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

1' Does "the stream" refer to the flag, or the the deep, or the sunlight?

According to "O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming" (in the 1st stanza), it is the flag that is streaming.

According to https://www.american-historama.org/1801-1828-evolution/star-spangled-banner-lyrics.htm (which says "'in full glory' lyrics express the grandeur of the flag and a religious connotation"), "the stream" may be the flag.

According to a popular Chinese translation (https://baike.baidu.com/link?url=HrVBxmNZhYMzkTUmMnE0sgxjYh7nlASirZDS3YITgoxuhlCoem9IsXnARg7wJUhxCzxitxtGSiPgzdyQePopr-43keocngUzjNk41X4mN38qZCS2mkEr0h7mGRJI_buN), "the stream" is translated as "水面" (literally "the surface of the water"). In other words, "the stream" refers to the sea/river in Baltimore.

If "the stream" is the sunlight, see my analysis blew.

2' The lyrics is "in the stream". However, I heard some singers singing "on the stream" (e.g. https://www.bilibili.com/video/BV1rb411r7Ds/?p=2&vd_source=6255052f3ca72cf571c578362d72ede3 where the caption is "on the stream"). What's the difference between "in the stream" and "on the stream"?

3' If the subject of both "reflected" and "shines" is "the gleam of the beam", why isn't the sixth line "In full glory reflected and shining in the stream"?

"Shine" can also be a noun. If "shines" serves as the subject, then what's the predicate? Absolute construction?

If "the stream" is the light, and the flag is the subject of "shines" (which means "to look bright and smooth"), then there should at least be a comma between "in full glory reflected" and "now shines". Therefore, the fifth, sixth, and seventh lines can be rephrased as:

Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam, reflected in full glory[,]

Now [it] (i.e. the flag) shines (i.e. appears glossy) in the stream (i.e. sunlight),

It is the star-spangled banner.

related question: Two questions about the 4th verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner"

1 Answer 1


The simplest reading is that this is the "stream of light" of the "morning's first beam". Therefore "stream" = sunlight. This is a rare usage, chosen mostly because of the the rhyme

It is "in" the stream because it is located in the beam of sunlight. "On the stream" would be used for a boat on water, but the flag is not "on" the sunlight but "in" it.

"Reflected glory" is when on thing gets respect for being associated with the success of another thing. Here the flag reflects the success of the defenders of Fort Henry.

"Shines" is a verb. The subject has been omitted for poetic not grammatical reasons, the subject is implied to be "it" from the previous line, which refers to the flag. There is no comma again because this isn't prose but a song. If the author had written

In full reflected glory, it shines in the sunlight.

It would fix all the grammar issues, but then it wouldn't fit the verse and it wouldn't rhyme!

The choice of words is mostly due to the desire for the song to rhyme, and isn't idiomatic in syntax or word choice for prose.

  • 1 The flag can reflect sunlight, too. 2 I came up with a new understanding, which I'm not sure: Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam, reflected in full glory[,] [It] (i.e. the flag) shines (i.e. appears bright) in the stream (i.e. sunlight), It is the star-spangled banner.
    – Zhang Jian
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 11:52
  • 1
    Yes, but there are different layers of interpretation, since the flag is both a literal flag and stands figuratively for "the US of A" The flag reflects both the light literally and the glory of the nation figuratively. And then remember that the author had to make words rhyme and fit a song (the music is an old club drinking song)
    – James K
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 19:06
  • 1
    I've edited to explain some of the other words, but mostly this is "it's just a song"
    – James K
    Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 7:47
  • Problem solved. So the "full" in "in full glory reflected" is an adverb, modifying "reflected", not an adjective, modifying "glory". It is the victory, not the sunlight, that is reflected by the flag. By the way, there is a typo in your answer: "when on thing" should be "when one thing".
    – Zhang Jian
    Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 13:13
  • 1
    Full modifes "glory"
    – James K
    Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 13:22

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