Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 10: Famous Poet-Physician (Vol. 42, pp. 1365-1370)

Oliver Wendell Holmes is famous for many things, but perhaps he is most famous for today's poem, "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!

This poem, about the U.S.S. Constitution and the nickname she earned when cannonballs bounced off the side of her hull in battle, is credited with saving this old warship from destruction. She sits in the Charlestown Naval Yard today, a monument to the days of wooden ships and iron men.

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