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By Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

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!


O, 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 thread-bare sail,

And give her to the god of storms,—

   The lightning and the gale!


Poet Bio

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was a brilliant doctor who was well known for his witty lectures at Harvard. Also a poet and essayist, Holmes’s prose series “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table” first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly with its inaugural issue in 1857. A year later it was published as a book, which also included some of his most memorable poetry.

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