The Life and Times of the Star-Spangled Banner

Death's Gloomy Angel

George Washington was one of the most important figures in American public life. He was the father of our country. When he died, it was an occasion of deep national mourning. When the Washington Benevolent Society wanted to commemorate his death 14 years later with a song, it chose Anacreon for the tune. This song is another example of the use of Anacreon for songs belonging to the public square.

The Death of George Washington

When Death's Gloomy Angel was Bending his Bow


When death's gloomy angel was bending his bow,

And the sacred recess of Mount Vernon invaded,

Thy Genius, Columbia! afflicted with woe,

In words of despair thus wildly upbraided:

O! Tyrant, forbear

The patriot spare!

A nation unanimous urges the pray'r

For once then in mercy that Here resign;

I feel his assistance united with mine.

With a smile he replied, "What shall Washington claim

Exemption from now denied to creation.

Shall his life be immortal and stand like his fame,

The world is unworthy so proud a donation.

Earth cannot requite,

A glory so bright;

He seeks from his nature the mansions of light,

Then cease, lovely mourner, to grieve that he flies.

A worth so transcendent belongs to the skies."

Then swift flew the shaft and the patriot fell;

The genius astonished beheld the translation,

For full in her eyes, O how wondrous to tell,

Burst forth in a moment a bright constellation.

In the midst, how serene.

An angel was seen,

She gazed, and recognized her Washington's mien.

His eye the mild beams of compassion expressed

While thus the fair mourner the Hero addressed.

Lament not for me, dry the tears from thy cheek.

For I had with years and with honor grown hoary,

Be silent and treasure the words I shall speak

Before I ascend to the mansions of glory.

When Faction's rude hand,

Shall rule o'er thy land,

A guardian Angel, shall Washington stand;

His eye shall watch o'er thee when dangers impend,

His councils shall guide thee, his buckler defend.

Should Albion molest in the pride of her sway,

And once more forsake law and justice for plunder.

My spirit shall light on thy Heroes that day,

Whose hands shall triumphantly brandish thy thunder.

Henceforth on the Sea,

Thy fates shall decree,

Hail, Jones and Decatur shall represent me.

On them in full lustre my glory shall shine

And Bainbridge shall mingle his triumphs with mine.

Be undaunted and firm, and confide in my arm,

Revere thine own self and all nations shall fear thee.

And should tyrants abroad, or domestic alarm,

Then trust that your Guardian Angel is near thee.

Now to regions of light

I hasten my flight,

My last words are liberty, Justice and Right.

He said and while speaking, from earth he withdrew,

And hid in his cloudy pavilion from view.