Last Updated on May 21, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 182
Context: Holmes wrote this angry poem as propaganda to prevent the proposed destruction of the renowned Constitution (popularly known as Old Ironsides), a navy frigate which had achieved fame in the War of 1812. In this poem Holmes expresses his eternal interest in the past. He begins by recounting the bygone glories which the ship has seen but will see no more: "the battle shout . . . the cannon's roar . . . her deck, once red with heroes' blood. . . ." He emphasizes the cruel irony of the fact that this heroic ship will now be ignominiously torn apart and sold piece by piece. If the ship must perish, Holmes says in the last stanza, then she should die a fittingly heroic death: "O better that her shattered hulk/ Should sink beneath the wave;/ Her thunders shook the mighty deep,/ And there should be her grave." Holmes's cleverly bitter verses helped to save the ship. The famous quotation forms the ironic opening of the poem:
Aye, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky; . . .
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