USS Constitution is living history, captured in drawings, paintings, and photographs. The legacy of “Old Ironsides’” and its sailors are chronicled in countless annals. Over the course of Constitution’s 200+ years, through wartime and peace, many have lyricized the ship’s history: from broadsides celebrating the War of 1812 victories, to Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1830 tribute “Old Ironsides,” to stanzas written by people associated with the USS Constitution Museum. To commemorate National Poetry Month we share with you a selection of poems from our collection, all written in honor of America’s Ship of State.

A recent acquisition is a 19th century song sheet, featuring two columns of verse, titled “Hull’s Victory: or, Huzza for the Constitution.” The lyrics of this broadside were intended for the tune of “Paul Jones’ Victory.”

“Hull’s Victory: or, Huzza for the Constitution,” to the tune of “Paul Jones’ Victory,” c. early 19th century [USS Constitution Museum Collection, 2049.1]

Now success to the good Constitution, a boat,

Which her crew will defend while a plank is afloat,

Who never will flinch, or in duty e’er lag,

But will stick to the last by the American flag.

USS Constitution went on a three-year National Cruise between 1931 and 1934. Constitution’s departure from Beaumont, Texas in 1932 is commemorated in Adeline Lincoln-Garretson’s four-stanza poem “Old Ironsides.”

“Old Ironsides,” by Adeline Lincoln-Garretson, March 12, 1932. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command]

To-day you are leaving, but your

Visit has taught us greater sense of loyalty

And devotion to the high ideals

Of the nation you have glorified.

We are loathe to see you go,

But you are sailing under orders,

As all good ships must sail,

And as you glide down our little river

Out to the open seas,

We would not say good-bye,

But Bon Voyage! Au Revoir, until we meet again!

Another poem from Constitution’s National Cruise is titled “’Old Ironsides’ in Retrospect” written by Private First Class Charles Dow while serving aboard.

“’Old Ironsides’ in Retrospect,” by PFC Charles Dow, 1934. [USS Constitution Museum Collection]

Placards on my wooden decks

And pennants from my spars

A glory of the nation’s pride

In honor of the tars

Who sacrificed their lands and homes

For a flag of thirteen stars.

In 1945, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Edgar C. Hilliard served aboard USS Constitution. With World War II coming to an end Hilliard penned an ode to peace.

“Peace,” by Captain Edgar C. Hilliard, 1957. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command]


Betrothed jewels of

Infant steps in the sun

Wants wandering on the

Edge of time

Divine lingerings seeking

Just one

Peace the insipient of

Faith Come

Ruth Kaufman, wife of USS Constitution Museum founding trustee Leon Kaufman, jotted down “A Spontaneous Tribute” to Constitution in 1976.

“A Spontaneous Tribute, 1976,” by Mrs. Ruth Kaufman, 1976. [USS Constitution Museum Collection]

They call me grand, “Old Ironsides”,

Nurturing native, nautical pride,

My history and mystery whet and excite

A hunger past eras ever invite.

Rigging tall—sprightly and spree,

I perpetuate a romance with the sea.

To the visitors I was—flocking ‘fore and ‘aft,

Softly I sway—tipping my hat.

In Museum—shore-side—complementing my stance,

Displays my treasures—how they’re enhanced!

It’s a flawless feeling, knowing such friends,

What luck—we meet—at my journey’s end.

Artist and current USS Constitution Museum advisor Sandra Regan has written numerous poems as a salute to “Old Ironsides.” A collection of her work is culminated in a self-published book titled USS Constitution, Her Noble Birth, Her Story in Sonnets. “Sonnet 1797” opens the anthology.

To be of noble birth, I ne’er have spoke.

Of persons I have known I cannot tell.

But rather things of copper, pine and oak,

And iron, of course, I know these very well.

A ship is built, is launched, is sailed, God speed,

That needs of of those who trust may be fulfilled.

And men, all brave in every word and deed,

Full measure given when precious blood is spilled.

Through war and peace, passed time and tide, we sigh

And wonder still as those who’ve gone before.

Why keep her fit—why fly her flag on high—

Unfurl her canvas—let her cannons roar?

A ship will live when people know her worth.

And so she lives because of noble birth.

The Author(s)

Carl Herzog
Public Historian, USS Constitution Museum

Carl Herzog is the Public Historian at the USS Constitution Museum.