To Anacreon in Heaven

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"The Anacreontic Song"
First page of the 1790 edition of the score.
First page of the 1790 edition of the score.
Song by The Anacreontic Society
Published 1778 (1778)
Label The Vocal Magazine
Writer Ralph Tomlinson
Composer John Stafford Smith
About this sound play 

"The Anacreontic Song", also known by its incipit "To Anacreon In Heaven", was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century gentlemen's club of amateur musicians in London. Attributed to the composer John Stafford Smith, the tune was later used by several writers as a setting for their patriotic lyrics. These included two songs by Francis Scott Key, most famously his poem "Defence of Fort McHenry". The latter combination became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner" and was adopted as the national anthem of the United States of America, in 1931.


The music is believed to have been composed[1] by a member of the Society, John Stafford Smith from Gloucester, to lyrics written by the Society's president, Ralph Tomlinson. Smith is believed to have composed the music in the mid-1760s, while still a teenager. It was first published by The Vocal Magazine (London) in 1778.[2]

These barristers, doctors, and other professional men named their club after the Greek court poet Anacreon (6th century BC), whose poems, called "anacreontics", were used to entertain patrons in Teos and Athens. His songs often celebrated women, wine, and entertainment ("wine, woman, and song").

The song, through its bawdy lyrics, gained popularity in London and elsewhere beyond the Anacreontic Society. New lyrics were also fashioned for it, including several patriotic titles in the United States. The most popular of these at the time was Robert Treat Paine Jr.'s Adams and Liberty[3] (1798).

"The Star-Spangled Banner"[edit]

Francis Scott Key wrote "Defence of Fort McHenry" during the War of 1812, while detained on a British ship during the night of September 13, 1814, as the British forces bombarded the American fort. Key specifically wrote the lyrics with this familiar patriotic tune in mind, just as he had done with an earlier set of his lyrics, "When the Warrior Returns", in which he had made similar use of "star-spangled banner" imagery.[4] Later retitled "The Star-Spangled Banner", Key's lyrics, set to Stafford Smith's music, became a well-known and recognized patriotic song throughout the United States, and was officially designated as the U.S. national anthem on March 3, 1931.[5] The setting of new lyrics to an existing tune is called a contrafactum.[6]


To Anacreon in Heav'n, where he sat in full glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a petition
That he their Inspirer and Patron would be;
When this answer arrived from the Jolly Old Grecian:
"Voice, Fiddle, and Flute, no longer be mute,
I'll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I'll instruct you, like me, to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine."
The news through Olympus immediately flew;
When Old Thunder pretended to give himself airs.
"If these Mortals are suffered their scheme to pursue,
The devil a Goddess will stay above stairs.
Hark, already they cry, in transports of joy,
Away to the Sons of Anacreon we'll fly,
And there with good fellows, we'll learn to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus' Vine."
"The Yellow-Haired God and his nine fusty Maids
From Helicon's banks will incontinent flee,
Idalia will boast but of tenantless shades,
And the bi-forked hill a mere desert will be.
My Thunder no fear on't, shall soon do its errand,
And dam'me I'll swing the Ringleaders I warrant.
I'll trim the young dogs, for thus daring to twine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine."
Apollo rose up, and said, "Pry'thee ne'er quarrel,
Good King of the Gods, with My Vot'ries below:
Your Thunder is useless" — then showing his laurel,
Cry'd "Sic evitabile fulmen,[7] you know!
Then over each head, my laurels I'll spread,
So my sons from your Crackers no mischief shall dread,
Whilst, snug in their clubroom, they jovially twine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine."
Next Momus got up with his risible Phiz
And swore with Apollo he'd cheerfully join —
"The full tide of Harmony still shall be his,
But the Song, and the Catch, and the Laugh shall be mine.
Then, Jove, be not jealous of these honest fellows."
Cry'd Jove, "We relent, since the truth you now tell us;
And swear by Old Styx, that they long shall intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine."
Ye Sons of Anacreon, then join hand in hand;
Preserve Unanimity, Friendship, and Love!
'Tis yours to support what's so happily plann'd;
You've the sanction of Gods, and the Fiat of Jove.
While thus we agree, our toast let it be:
"May our Club flourish happy, united, and free!
And long may the Sons of Anacreon intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine."


  1. ^ There is only one known firsthand account, by Society member John Samuel Stevens.
  2. ^ Glover, Raymond F. The Hymnal 1982 companion, Volume 3, Church Publishing, Inc., 1990.
  3. ^ "Adams and Liberty". 
  4. ^ "When the Warrior Returns". 
  5. ^ "John Stafford Smith: Composer of the Star Spangled Banner". 
  6. ^ As American as tarte aux pommes! Celebrating the Fourth with some American Music
  7. ^ According to [1]: "Sic evitabile fulmen roughly translates to "this repels thunderbolts" (It was a common Roman belief that laurel provided protection from lightning.)

External links[edit]


"The Star-Spangled Banner"[edit]