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Discuss "Old Ironsides" and "The Chambered Nautilus" by Oliver Wendell Holmes relative...

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ktftw | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 12, 2009 at 8:33 AM via web

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Discuss "Old Ironsides" and "The Chambered Nautilus" by Oliver Wendell Holmes relative to the characteristics of the Romantic Period.

I need multiple examples of how the characteristics are shown in the two separate poems.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 12, 2009 at 9:33 AM (Answer #1)

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In turning to nature as the source of inspiration for self-improvement, Holmes is in tune with the Romantics.  In his poem "Nautilus," Holmes writes an extended metaphor in which the growth of the nautilus is compared to the development of the human soul.  From nature, thus, the individual learns the importance of building a nobler, loftier, more spiritual existence.

In the first stanza, the nautilus, a mollusk, is described as a "ship."  Then, in the second stanza it is compared to a human dwelling--"the frail tenant" is inside--that is changed in the third stanza for "the new."  In reaction to this knowledge, the fourth stanza has the speaker expressing an outburst of feeling, an intuitive understanding:

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,/Child of the wandering sea,/Cast from her lap, forlorn!

In contrast to his Calvinist background, Holmes expresses the Romantic idea that the soul can achieve virtue and salvation:

Build thee more stately mansion, O my soul,/As the swift seasons roll!/Leave thy low-vaulted past!/Let each new temple, nobler than the last,/Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,/Till thou at length art free,/Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!

Again in "Old Ironsides" Holmes writes metaphors that connect the object to something in nature.  For instance, the ship resembles a meteor as it strikes quick and causes destruction.  In addition to the use of metaphor, Holmes's iambic tetrameter that alternates with iambic trimeter produces a driving forceful beat that, in its intensity, touches the emotions.

In line 15, the eagle becomes the metaphor for the ship.  This powerful creature of nature, that is also the symbol of America, rules the skies because of its swifness, strength, and ability to strike just as the warship can. In lines 5-8, for instance, Holmes employs alliteration with the words beneath, battle, and burst.  There is also a sonic device with these words that appeals to the senses, aiding the reader to feel the "visceral reality" (enotes), the emotional experience, of the battles.  In lines 9-16, Holmes also employs emotional words with his sounds and images.

Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,/Where knelt the vanquished foe,/....No more shall feel the victor's tread....

The connection of the ship with living objects of nature is not only Romantic, but it is an effective emotional tool in imbuing life into the ship.  Scrapping it, therefore, is conceived as a sacrilege against nature.  Sinking her would be preferable:

And give her to the god of storms,/The lightning and the gale!

Yet, even sinking seems ignoble when one considers the glory it has once known, a glory that is part of history and nature.  This lofty occupation in the mind of "Old Ironsides," is, indeed, a Romantic idea. In the final lines above, the mood shifts to the imperative, taking on a spiritual resonance.

 

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