Inchcape Rock is a popular poem by Robert Southey about the Inchcape Rock Legend, a reef which is situated in the North Sea, close to the coastal region of Angus in Scotland. The Inchcape Rock is known for its infamy as causation for shipwreck. This poem by Robert Southey revolves around the famous folktale of an Abbot, a monk who placed a bell on the reef to issue warning to seamen and seafarers about the impending danger during storms. According to the folktale, whenever the bell used to ring, the seafarers used to bless the Abbot’s wisdom and thank him for saving them from danger. But a sea robber named Ralph cut down the bell to earn money and treasures from the ships that fatally crashed against the rock. However, a day came when Ralph’s vessel too encounters a storm and crashes against the rock. This is when he hears death bells ringing.
The poem Inchcape Rock is a ballad. It is a lengthy poem consisting of seventeen stanzas. The poet begins the poem with a calm tone describing the sea. To describe the calm state of the sea, the poet has used expression like ‘No stir in the air, no stir in the sea.’ The sea was calm and quiet and ships were sailing peacefully. No wind troubled the ships and her keel was firmly set in the ocean.
The second stanza describes the Inchcape Rock on which the waves are gently moving without making any impact on the Inchcape Bell. The waves are rising and falling without moving the Inchcape Bell.
The third stanza talks about the wise Abbot of Aberbrothok who had placed the bell on the Rock to prevent ships from getting shipwrecked during storms and gales. The bell was placed on a buoy. When a storm occurred, the buoy would float and in turn ring the bell which would provide a warning for seamen.
When the Rock was full of water by the strong waves during high tide, the bell would ring and warn the sailors against the Rock. The rock is termed as ‘perilous’ meaning dangerous by Southey. Then they used to thank the Abbot of Aberbrothok for his idea of placing a bell to prevent shipwrecks.
The fifth stanza is cheerful in tone. It is about a joyful day where the sun was shining brightly and sea birds were circling above, screaming. Their chirping brought joy to all.
The sixth stanza speaks about the buoy which looked like a dark, visible speck on the green ocean. Sir Ralph walked up to his deck and saw the dark speck.
Stanza seven is about the Ralph’s excitement experiencing the pleasant day in the spring season. He sang and whistled. He was extremely happy. However, he had a wicked plan in his mind which made him so glad. We find Ralph looking at the Inchcape Rock with his eyes fixed on it in the eighth stanza. He asks his sailors to take him to the Rock. In his mind he has already planned to destroy the good work of the Abbot of Aberbrothok.
In the ninth stanza, we find the men had already lowered the boat and they are reaching Inchcape Rock. The Rover is all set to execute his wicked plan. Finally, they reach Inchcape Rock to ‘plague the Abbot Of Aberbrothok.’ The wicked Ralph bends down and cuts off the bell from the Inchcape Rock.
In the next stanza we find the bell sinking down making a sound. There were bubbles bursting all around. Ralph says with disregard that no more will anyone thank the Abbot.
In the eleventh stanza, we find the rover becomes rich by looting the wealth and treasures from the shipwrecked ships. He directed his ship towards the shore of Scotland. The ships that came near the Inchcape Rock did not hear the warning bell anymore, as it was cut down. Therefore, the ships suffered shipwrecks and they were looted by Sir Ralph.
The twelfth stanza is about a day where the sun could not be seen. The atmosphere was hazy and strong winds blew the whole day and by evening the storm was clear. The atmosphere somewhat signifies that something was going to happen.
The Rover is seen standing on the deck in the thirteenth stanza. It is dark that he is not able to see the land. He says and hopes that the weather will be pleasant at night.
One of his sailors says that he can hear the roaring of the waves. It seems that the shore is somewhere near about. Another of his sailor wished he could hear the sound of the Inchcape Bell as he was not aware of where they were. This stanza is about the sailors of Ralph who are a little remorseful about cutting down the Inchcape Bell. But it was already to late and we soon find them meeting their fates.
Finally in the fifteenth stanza, the ship of the Rover too crashes against the Inchcape Rock. The ship is struck with a’shivering shock.’ The shivering shock given to the vessel was by none other than the perilous Inchcape Rock. They call upon Christ, the son of God that they have met their horrible fate, the Inchcape Rock.
In the sixteenth stanza, Ralph is seen cursing himself in despair and tearing up his hair in frustration. Meanwhile, the waves have started to engulf the ship and it starts to sink beneath the high tide.
In the last stanza of the poem, Inchcape Rock, Ralph the Rover can hear a ‘dreadful’ sound of a ringing bell which resembles the sound of the Inchcape Bell but is actually the death knell, rung by the Devil Himself. The ringing of the bell was once a blessing to the seamen, but in the final stanza we find the sound had been termed as ‘dreadful’ and it has turned into a curse for the Rover. The Rover finally pays for his own deeds.
“But even in his dying fear,
One dreadful sound could the Rover hear;
A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,
The Devil below was ringing his knell.”