The mention of “Old Ironsides,” brings a smile to my heart. While on vacation in 2000, our family had quite an afternoon aboard her in Boston Harbor. Later that same year, we adopted a little boy who didn’t speak our language till he was five, but who took every opportunity to crawl into anyone’s lap with a children’s book we had on the U.S.S. Constitution, and with a coaxing smile, managed somehow to get whoever it was to read it to him. My sons are all drawn to battle ships and I suppose I am thankful none have run away to sea.
Oliver Wendell Holmes (for whom, incidentally, my junior high school was named) was born in the same year as Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Alan Poe, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Kit Carson, Louis Braille, and Charles Darwin. He was inspired to write this poem in 1830, when he learned that the faithful old girl, first commissioned by George Washington and an original American Naval ship, was going to be scrapped. This poem roused a public outcry, prevented her doom, and, therefore is responsible for that happy, hot afternoon we spent on her decks 15 years ago. Is this another proof of the power of poetry? –Liz
by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
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!
O, 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!
Image from Wikipedia.