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!

by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Comments (4)

I couldn't understand why Oliver would feel that way until I read the comment below by Viking Thrice, then it made perfect sense. Thank you, Viking! Where can we go to visit the ship today? Anyone know?
Aside from the wonderful story described by Viking below, man, how awesome to see such a delicately worded, beautiful piece of prose from one of our nations greatest men. I did not even know that Oliver was a poet, and have now discovered he was particularly good at it.... How wonderful it could be if all men tasked with sitting in judgment over a nation saw the world with artist's eyes... I should think the very thing that brought such deep meaning to Ironsides, battles and war, should become a forgotten travesty....
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?
This is my great uncle. No kidding.