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A poem for the Fourth of July

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was one of the Fireside Poets

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,  

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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!


Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894) was an American man of letters, physician, and one of the Fireside Poets—which included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whitter and Ralph Waldo Emerson—the first generation of American poets whose popularity rivaled that of British poets both in the U.S. and abroad. Holmes is best known for The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table, a series of essays on a broad range of topics written in a homespun Yankee style as one-sided dialogues with unnamed interlocutors at a boardinghouse. His most famous poem, “Old Ironsides,” is a homage to the USS Constitution. The poem’s popularity led to preventing the ship, most famous for its action during the War of 1812, from being decommissioned. It remains the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy still in commission. Holmes is the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and is also known for coining the term “anesthesia.”

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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,  

Sponsored
Sponsored

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!


Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894) was an American man of letters, physician, and one of the Fireside Poets—which included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whitter and Ralph Waldo Emerson—the first generation of American poets whose popularity rivaled that of British poets both in the U.S. and abroad. Holmes is best known for The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table, a series of essays on a broad range of topics written in a homespun Yankee style as one-sided dialogues with unnamed interlocutors at a boardinghouse. His most famous poem, “Old Ironsides,” is a homage to the USS Constitution. The poem’s popularity led to preventing the ship, most famous for its action during the War of 1812, from being decommissioned. It remains the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy still in commission. Holmes is the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and is also known for coining the term “anesthesia.”

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