Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

Old Ironsides

T HE frigate Constitution, which had figured valiantly in the history of the United States navy, and had won the famous sea-fight with the English ship Guerriere in the War of 1812, was popularly called Old Ironsides, and had won a warm place in the hearts of the American people. On September 14, 1830, the Boston Daily Advertiser announced that the Secretary of the Navy had recommended that the Constitution be broken up, as no longer fit for service. As soon as he heard this Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote his poem Old Ironsides, which appeared two days later. It immediately became a battle-cry; was repeated all through the country; and caused such a wave of feeling for the time-scarred frigate that the plan of dismantling her was given up, and instead she was rebuilt, and given an honored place among the veterans of the country's navy.

Old Ironsides

by Oliver Wendell Holmes

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!

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