Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the American physician and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) began writing poetry when he was young, publishing “Old Ironsides,” one of his most famous works, in his early 20s. A respected doctor and popular author, Holmes was a member of Boston’s literary circle along with writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
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!