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

A ballad is a long narrative poem that tells a story. This popular poem by Robert Southey tells the story about 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 is based on 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.

The Inchcape Rock is written in the form of a ballad interwoven with a number of poetical devices. The poem has seventeen descriptive stanzas as narrated by the poet. The poet begins the poem with a calm tone describing 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. The waves are rising and falling without moving the Inchcape Rock. 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. Then they used to thank the Abbot of Aberbrothok for his idea of placing a bell to prevent shipwrecks.


The fifth stanza 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 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 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 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 that the weather will be pleasant at night.

One of his sailors says that he can hear the roaring of 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.
Finally in the fifteenth stanza, the ship of the Rover too crashes against 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 the 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 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.

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