Today is the birthday of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. – not to be confused with his son and U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
The father was born in Cambridge, went to Phillips then to Harvard. While in medical school, he began to write poetry, first for his own amusement, then to published anonomously and once even to save a warship.
Hearing that the famed USS Constitution was to be scraped by the Navy, Holmes wrote a poem about the ship, “Old Ironsides”. Published first in Boston, the poem then appeared in newspapers throughout the country in 1830, earning Holmes instant fame and preserving the historic ship – which is still seaworthy and located in Boston today.
Despite literary success and contemporary admirers like Edgar Allen Poe, Holmes was more dedicated, it seems, to his medical career. After studying in Boston and Paris, he earned his M.D. from Harvard and brought to American medicine radical ideas like the use of a stethoscope,idea of patient to patient spread of infection from physician contact long be form germ theory became popular and in 1846, he coined the word “anesthesia”.
In 1857, Holmes, together with Harriet Beecher Stowe , Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowel and John Greenleaf Whittier started a literary magazine. Holmes named it The Atlantic Monthly. The magazine gained and has since maintained a national reputation for introducing America best writers to the literary world and launching the careers of some of the country’s best known names in letters.
Here’s a that poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr, “Old Ironsides”.
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!
Oh, better that her shattered bulk
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!