All Hands on Deck: Learning Adventures Aboard Old Ironsides
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USS Constitution, Johnson

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Poetry Power
Understanding the power of words

Some of Constitution’s power came from her armament, but some came from her reputation. The following poem shows the power of words. Oliver Wendell Holmes’s poetry captured the public’s imagination and helped to rally public sentiment to save Constitution.

Before students read the poem, explain that “harpies” are birdlike female creatures from Greek mythology which Homer describes in the Odyssey as “snatchers” responsible for sudden disappearances. After they have read the poem, you might discuss the terms “patriotism” and “loyalty.” What do they mean? Does Holmes think we should be loyal to “Old Ironsides”? Why?

Find the words in the poem that help answer the questions below.

1. Holmes does not use Constitution’s name in the poem. Instead, what does he call her? the eagle of the sea
2. What words describe Constitution’s condition? tattered ... , shattered hulk, threadbare ....
3. (a) Does Holmes think Constitution should be saved? yes
(b) Find examples in the poem to support your answer. many eyes have danced; the memory of heroes and victors; harpies are the evil against her
Use what you have learned about Constitution to provide some of the details behind the poem:
4. Name some of the heroes who served aboard her. examples: Isaac Hull, William Bainbridge, Edward Preble, Charles Stewart
5. Name two of the ships with which she did battle. possible answers: HMS Guerriere; HMS Java; HMS Cyane and HMS Levant
6. Name one country representing Constitution’s “vanquished foe.” England or Barbary states
7. Rather than let her rot at the pier or use her for target practice, what would Holmes prefer to be her fate? Deliver her to the power of the stormy sea.
8. What happened to her after she retired and where is she today?
(use other side for your answer) Answers will vary

Have on Hand- photocopies of blank worksheet

Worksheet-Old Ironsides Poem (pdf)
Blank Worksheet- Questions (pdf)

Divide class into three groups to each memorize a different stanza of the poem: Individually, in parts and two subgroups alternate.

Kitty Flammang, Curriculum Program Support Teacher
School District of Beloit
Beloit, WI

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