Thursday, September 15, 2016


15 September 2016: 186 years ago, the United States Frigate Constitution had been destined for the scrapyard, her timbers likely to be used for a more modern, updated warship. A young medical student, Oliver Wendell Holmes, heard of the disgrace and, moved by his outrage, composed the following verse which was published in the newspaper and credited with saving this paragon of United States supremacy on the seas.

A bit about Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. first:

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Holmes was educated at Phillips Academy and Harvard College. After graduating from Harvard in 1829, he briefly studied law before turning to the medical profession. He began writing poetry at an early age; one of his most famous works, "Old Ironsides", was published in 1830 and was influential in the eventual preservation of the USS Constitution. Following training at the prestigious medical schools of Paris, Holmes was granted his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1836. He taught at Dartmouth Medical School before returning to teach at Harvard and, for a time, served as dean there. During his long professorship, he became an advocate for various medical reforms and notably posited the controversial idea that doctors were capable of carrying puerperal fever from patient to patient. Holmes retired from Harvard in 1882 and continued writing poetry, novels and essays until his death in 1894.

Constitution 1812
Constitution 2012

The Poem:

"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 hero's 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 bulk
should sink beneath the wave;
her thunder 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!                      
                                       September 16th, 1830

Well, it worked! Here she is just last year entering dry dock in Charlestown Navy Yard for her periodic overhaul.

Until next time,
                             Fair winds,
                                   Old Salt

No comments:

Post a Comment