Calling All Poets

April 04, 1995|By ALBERT J. SILVERMAN

The plight of the Constellation and the efforts currently under way to save her from historical oblivion remind us of what happened to the even more famous frigate Constitution 164 years ago.

On September 14, 1830, there appeared in the Boston Daily Advertiser the following news item:

''Old Ironsides -- It has been affirmed upon good authority that the Secretary of the Navy has recommended to the Board of Navy Commissioners to dispose of the frigate Constitution.''

When young Oliver Wendell Holmes, freshly graduated from Harvard College, saw the item his patriotic New England soul caught fire and he --ed off the stirring poem ''Old Ironsides,'' which galvanized the somnolent American public into taking action to save the gallant old lady whose hull never sustained serious damage from enemy fire.

As was the Constitution, Baltimore's own Constellation is severely infected with rot and, to be restored, will require extensive and expensive repairs. We may hope that the U.S. Navy will approve the plans submitted for her rehabilitation and that success will attend efforts to raise the necessary funds. The process might be accelerated if a contemporary Maryland poet -- a latter-day Oliver Wendell Holmes -- would be inspired to write a stirring poem about her.

Old Ironsides

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;

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 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 threadbare sail,

And give her to the God of storms,

The lightning and the gale!

Oliver Wendell Holmes

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