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 bulk
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!
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)
Holmes wrote this in 1830 in response to a rumor that the U.S. Navy was planning to scuttle the U.S.S. Constitution. First published in the Boston Daily Advertiser, it became massively popular and was credited with saving the ship from destruction, though in fact the Navy had no immediate plans to decommission it. The continuing popularity of the poem is, however, very likely the reason why the Constitution remains a commissioned Naval vessel to this day.