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Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 200

“Old Ironsides” was first published in 1836 in Poems. The volume, Holmes’s first, earned the young poet a reputation as a humorist, but critics also noticed what several termed the “manly sentiment” of his more serious poems. “He knows how to be sentimental without silliness, and vigorous without violence,” an anonymous reviewer commented in The Yale Literary Magazine in 1837. The reviewer notes that Holmes avoids the “sin” of clever writers: “a disposition to run as near to mawkishness as possible without falling into it.” On the contrary, the reviewer gently accuses Holmes of failing to exploit the more serious side of his vision. If anything, the reviewer suggests, “there is too little sentimentality; and we could wish he had allowed himself more latitude where he shows himself most capable.” Another anonymous critic, writing in a 1837 volume of The North American Review, remarks upon the “easy and natural flow” of Holmes’s lyrics. Discussing “Old Ironsides,” the critic says that “the strain upon the plan by the Navy Department for breaking up the Frigate Constitution, an unhappy suggestion of some one who was probably more familiar with national shipyards than national feelings, will rank among the best martial songs of England.”

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