The Short Story of the Day


Old Ironsides


Old Ironsides was Holmes' tribute poem to the three-masted US naval frigate that earned its nickname during the Battle of 1812, defeating five British warships. Featured in the collection Poems of American Patriotism (1922), Brander Matthews, editor.

An illustration for the story Old Ironsides by the author Oliver Wendell HolmesSeptember 16, 1830: The frigate Constitution was launched in 1797, and took part in the war with Tripoli in 1804. In 1812 she captured the British Guerriere on August 19th, and the British Java on December 29th. After the war she served as a training ship. In 1830 it was proposed to break her up, which called forth this indignant poem. In 1876 she was refitted, and in 1878 she took over the American exhibits to the Paris Exhibition. She now lies out of commission in Rotten Row, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

 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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