Oliver Wendell Holmes

(1809-1894 / United States)

Old Ironsides


Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar; --
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.
Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee; --
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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  • Rookie Viking Thrice (1/1/2014 1:48:00 AM)

    If I recall correctly, the US Department of the Navy had proposed to destroy the USS Consitution, otherwise known as Old Ironsides. Holmes read about this in a newspaper, and incensed by the report, wrote the poem above in protest. There was a public outcry as a result, and the government decided to scuttle its plans to, well, scuttle the ship. The poem retains great power, doesn't it? (Report) Reply

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