USS Constitution is living history, captured in drawings, paintings, and photographs. The legacy of “Old Ironsides’” victories and the men of iron who served aboard her are chronicled in countless annals. Over the course of Constitution’s 221 years, through wartime and peace, many have lyricized her glory; from broadsides celebrating her War of 1812 victories to Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1830 tribute “Old Ironsides” and stanzas written by a current overseer of 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.”
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”.
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.
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.
Betrothed jewels of
Infant steps in the sun
Wants wandering on the
Edge of time
Divine lingerings seeking
Peace the insipient of
Ruth Kaufman, wife of USS Constitution Museum founding trustee Leon Kaufman, jotted down “A Spontaneous Tribute” to Constitution in 1976.
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.
Current USS Constitution Museum overseer and artist 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.
Public Historian, USS Constitution Museum
Carl Herzog is the Public Historian at the USS Constitution Museum.