Old Ironsides

By Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. 1809–1894 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!

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 thread-bare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,—
   The lightning and the gale!

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Poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. 1809–1894

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects War & Conflict, Nature, Heroes & Patriotism, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Seas, Rivers, & Streams

Holidays Independence Day

Poetic Terms Common Measure

Biography

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was a brilliant doctor who was well known for his witty lectures at Harvard. Also a poet and essayist, Holmes’s prose series “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table” first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly with its inaugural issue in 1857. A year later it was published as a book, which also included some of his most memorable poetry.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT War & Conflict, Nature, Heroes & Patriotism, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Seas, Rivers, & Streams

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Common Measure

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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