Poetry Study Aid: The Inchcape Rock: Robert Southey

The
Inchcape Rock
Robert
Southey
·      
Introduction

The
poem
Inchcape Rock by Robert Southey is a popular ballad based on
the famous legend of the Inchcape Rock. The Rock is a dangerous reef or a
submerged rock in the east coast of Scotland. The Rock was notorious as it
caused the wreck of many ships resulting in the loss of scores of lives and a
great deal of valuable cargo.

To save the seafarers from
the deadly perilous Rock, an abbot devised a contraption called the Inchcape
Bell. The Inchcape Bell was a bell floating on a buoy and attached with a rope
to the Inchcape Rock. When the sea was stormy and rough, the wild movement of
the buoy caused the Bell to ring loud. The ringing of the Bell alerted the
sailors to the proximity of the Inchcape Rock so that they could navigate away
to safety. As the warning ring of the Bell saved many lives, the sailors were
grateful towards the good Abbot and blessed him.
However, a pirate captain,
named Sir Ralph the Rover, was jealous of the Abbot’s fame and. on one black
day,  the evil pirate captain cut off the
ropes fixing the Bell to the Rock. The Bell sank to the depths of the sea.
There were to be no more warning bells for the seafarers. After a few days,
while returning to Scotland, the pirate captain had to pass the Inchcape Rock.
The sea was rough and tempestuous. There was poor visibility and his ship
crashed against the Inchcape Rock and sank to the depths of the sea causing the
death of the pirate captain and his crew. The evil captain became a victim of
his own evil deed.
·       The Theme
Evil
brings forth suffering; crime brings forth punishment. The poem supports the proverb
in the Bible; the wages of sin is death. The poem introduces the theme of
conflict between the Good and the Evil; the Good symbolised by the Abbot and
the Evil symbolised by the Rover.
All
good actions are bestowed with good rewards and all evil actions are penalised with
evil punishments. A man who commits a sin or does a bad deed becomes the prey
of his bad intentions. The compassionate and caring Abbot of Aberbrothok, anxious
of the danger of the seafarers positioned, a bell on the Inchcape Rock in an attempt
to save the lives of the sailors; the envious and spiteful pirate Sir Ralph the
Rover, because of his malice and jealousy towards the Abbot’s fame, cuts the
Bell down exposing the seamen to danger and death. However, the bad pirate
becomes the victim of his own evil intentions and has to face danger and death
as a retribution.
·      
The Form
The poem The Inchcape
Rock
is a ballad.
A ballad is a
narrative poem which tells a story and is intended to be sung. A ballad generally
begins abruptly. Most of the ballads have four-line stanzas with a specific
rhyme scheme. The internal rhyme and alliterations add to the feel of the
ballad. They can be put to music because of its folksy nature. In general, a
ballad carries a moral or a message.
The poem the Inchcape Rock
consists of 17 stanzas of 4 lines each. In each stanza, the first line and second
line rhyme each other and the third line and the fourth line rhyme each other,
that is, aa bb is the rhyme scheme of each stanza
of the poem.
·       The Plot
There
was no movement in the atmosphere and no motion in the ocean. The ship of Sir
Ralph, the sea pirate, remained still since there was no wind to move its
sails. Even the keel of the ship was steady in the ocean. The waves coursed over
the Inchcape Rock quietly without affecting the Inchcape Bell.
The
bell had been positioned on a buoy and attached to the Inchcape Rock by the
Abbot of Aberbrothok. On tempestuous days, the buoy rocked and swung the bell and
the warning bell rang aloud. When the sailors heard the peal of the Bell, they realised
the proximity of the perilous  Rock. With
great gratitude, they blessed the Abbot of Aberbrothok for his compassion to
save them from this grievous Rock.
The
Sun was shining radiantly and everything looked bright and sparkling on that
day. The sea birds were screeching in glee. The buoy of the Inchcape Bell could
be seen in the distance like a dark spot on the green ocean. Sir Ralph the
Rover, the sea pirate, observed the Bell from his ship’s deck. The spring-time
weather had the power to cheer his mood and he whistled and sang in gaiety. Yet,
his joy was an evil glee; a spiteful pleasure over the disaster that was to occur
on the Abbot of Aberbrothok and his noble deed.
Overcome
with jealousy, he had resolved to distress the Abbot of Aberbrothok He ordered
his seamen to launch a boat and row him to the Inchcape Rock. On his orders,
his sailors rowed towards the Inchcape rock. When he reached the Inchcape Bell,
Sir Ralph gleefully cut the bell off from the Inchcape float. The bell sank
down in the sea with a gurgling sound making bubbles all over. Sir Ralph exultantly
said that the next man who came to the rock would not live to bless the Abbot
of Aberbrothok.
After
this wicked act Sir Ralph sailed away in search of ships to loot and plunder.
After a few days,  with his plundered
wealth, he returned to Scotland. While passing along the Inchcape Rock,
abruptly a dense haze 
spread
over 
the sky and the sun was not visible . Wild winds blew the
whole day, but it became calm again in the evening. It was the calm before the
storm. Sir Ralph stood on the deck and observed the sea. Visibility was so poor
that he could not see the land. He comforted his crew that shortly it would be
a clear day and  dawn would come with the
rising moon.

One
of his crew wondered whether anybody could hear the noise of the waves and said
that the ship ought to be drawing near the shore. He mournfully wished that he could hear the Inchcape Bell. However, there was no pealing of the bell amongst the huge waves tormenting the ship and her crew. All of a sudden, the
ship jarred with an abrupt fierce shock. Sir Ralph was shaken and realised that
they had crashed against the Inchcape Rock. He was filled with remorse of his earlier
evil act of cutting the Bell off the Rock. He was powerless when the ship sank underneath
the deluge. Knowing that his death was imminent, he felt he could hear the awful
sound of the Inchcape Bell as though it was the Devil below ringing his death
knell.