Old Ironsides

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!

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!

THe USS Constition is a heavy frigate launched in 1797. She performed heroically in the War of 1812 with Britain, capturing two English frigate as well as defeating other minor ships and cpaturing merchantmen. The nickname 'Old Ironsides' came about through her terrible battle with the British frigate Guerriere.

The Constitution was retired from active service in 1881 and now serves as a museum. The ship can still sail though and did so in 2012 to mark the anniversary of her victory over Guerriere. The Constitution is the oldest commissioned sailing vessel actually afloat.