Saturday, August 29, 2009

Oliver Wendell Holmes' birthday

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 picture above (from an annual report of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society/ New Bedford Whaling Museum) is of U.S.S. Constitution visiting New Bedford harbor sometime before the turn of the Twentieth Century. Revel in the juxtaposition of the great Boston Brahmin's birthday, his poem, and a grateful nation bidding farewell to a tireless advocate for its citizens and their rights.
Although "the dream lives on" may have a better ring to it, the last last four lines of "Old Ironsides" are also eerily appropriate.

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