Analysis of The Inchcape Rock by Robert Southey

Robert Southey’s The Inchcape Rock is based on the legendary story of a reef off the east coast of Scotland.

The Inchcape Rock is written in the form of a ballad interwoven with a number of poetical devices to convey a moral lesson- ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’
A ballad is a long, narrative poem that tells a story. The Inchcape Rock tells the story of a wicked pirate who cuts off the bell on the Inchcape Rock, which was put there by an abbot. He did so out of selfish motive and envy. In the end his own ship crashes against the Rock and is drowned in the sea. The moral of the poem goes like this that ‘he who digs a pit for others, falls into it.’ Thus the ballad has adventure, heroism, jealousy and a moral.

A ballad is traditionally sung by a wandering musician. Here, each stanza of the first line rhymes with the second and the third with the fourth. An example is given below:
“The buoy of the Inchcape Bell was seen
A darker speck on the ocean green;
Sir Ralph the Rover, walk’d his deck
And he fix’d his eye on the darker speck.”

Alliteration is the close repetition of the consonant sounds at the beginning of words to facilitate narration. Examples of alliteration in the poem are,-
a. The ship was as still as she could be
b. Without either sign or sound of their shock

Personification is a figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstract ideas are given human attributes or feelings. An example of Personification in the poem is:

“The Ship was as still as she could be
Her sails from heaven received no motion,
Her keel was steady in the ocean.”

A metaphor is that figure of speech where comparison of two different things are implied but not clearly stated. Example of metaphor in the poem is given below,-

“A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell
The Devil below was ringing his knell.”

The poet has used descriptive and narrative techniques to enhance the effect of the poem. The poem, The Inchcape Rock, provides a fine verbal image of the calm atmosphere of the sea. Then the Inchcape Rock is introduced, the old Abott’s plan of putting a bell. This way the ballad glides from one incident to another very smoothly, providing a vividly picture into the readers minds.
Example of Visual images in the poem:
1. The sun in heaven was shining gay.
2. The waves flowed over the Inchcape Rock.
Examples of Sound images in the poem:
1. And over the waves its warning rung.
2. The sea birds screamed as they wheeled round,
And there was joyance in their sound.

The poem, The Inchcape Rock, teaches a moral lesson- As you sow, so shall you reap. A poem with a moral theme is called a didactic poem. The poem proves the principle that crime gets its own punishment. The Rover, cuts off the bell to peeve the good Abbot and the other helpless sailors but in the end he falls into his own laid trap. Remorse and regrets later overtake him but it was too late already.
“Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair,
He cursed himself in despair”

Southey wrote long epics- Thalaba the Destroyer, Madoc and The Curse of Kehama. Some of his famous poems include, My Days Among the Dead are Past, The Battle of Blenheim, The Inchcape Rock, The Scholar, Henry the Hermit etc.

Solved Questions

Critically Analyse the poem The Inchcape Rock by Robert Southey

Robert Southey’s Inchcape Rock is a form of a ballad. Discuss

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