Summary of The Wreck of the Titanic by Benjamin Peck Keith


About the poet:

Benjamin Peck Keith was an American poet. Not much is known about him. It is estimated that he was born in the year 1857. His father was named Edwin S. Keith, and his mother was named Julia A. Pelera. Hence it is safe to assume that he was of mixed race. Records show that he got married at the age of 56 to Kate Ross Tyson (aged 49) on 13th November 1913 in San Francisco, California. He has published a collection of poetry entitled Spoons of Silver and Spoons of Tin, and Other Poems in the year 1921. One of his well-known poems is called “A Memory of Arizona”.

About The Wreck of the Titanic:

“The Wreck of the Titanic” is Keith’s best-known poem. It is an elegy on the sinking of the Titanic, the many lives lost in this disaster, and most importantly, the courage of the captain, the crew and the band of the Titanic under such trying circumstances.

The setting of The Wreck of the Titanic:

This poem is set in the North Atlantic Ocean at the exact point of time when a giant iceberg strikes the Titanic and leads to its sinking. The way in which the poet describes the scene in question makes all the action seem very immediate and adds to our enjoyment of the poem.

Stanza-wise Summary of The Wreck of the Titanic:

The poem consists of 10 stanzas. Each of these stanzas is again made up of 4 lines. Hence, the entire poem consists of 40 lines in total.

1st stanza:

Out of Southampton she swung with the stream,
A poem of iron and steel, A sea dream.
And thousands on shore, watched her steaming away:
The largest, and grandest of all ships that day

In this stanza, the poet describes how the Titanic moved with the course of the water out of the port of Southampton. He thinks it was as beautiful as a poem and as unbelievable as a dream. Thousands of people stood on the shore and watched the steam blowing out of the Titanic as it started to move. It was the largest and most magnificent ship that they had ever seen.

2nd stanza:

And the thousand on board, did security feel, 
For no eye saw death, as he stood at the wheel;
Directing her course to the echoless shore,
Her first and last haven of nevermore.

In this stanza, the poet says that the Titanic was so huge that a thousand people could be accommodated in it, and they all felt safe for they had much faith in Captain Smith. In fact, they didn’t even see death as a distant possibility. Now the Titanic had moved so far away that no sound made on the ship could reach the shore and be echoed back. Never again would the Titanic be this safe.

3rd stanza:

She was the last, best work of men,
And on her first voyage was speeding—when:
Out of the darkness, Out of the night,
Loomed an ominous form of ghostly white.

In this stanza, the poet says that man had never created anything better than the Titanic. As the ship was speeding along, suddenly a large and scary mass that was white in color could be seen in the darkness.

4th stanza:

“Twas a towering mountain of ice-gigantic,
As ever was seen on the North Atlantic.
She struck, with a shiver from stem to stern:
And was rapidly sinking—All soon did learn.

In this stanza, the poet reveals what the huge mass mentioned in the previous stanza actually was. It was an iceberg, and nobody had seen a larger one in the North Atlantic Ocean. As the Titanic hit the iceberg, the entire structure of the ship was shaken. Soon enough, all the passengers could see that it was sinking.


5th stanza:

Then Captain Smith, her commander brave,
Thought not one moment, his own life to save,
But stood on the bridge, calling out to the crew:
“Remember your country, Be British, be true.

In this stanza, the poet describes how Captain Smith never thought about saving himself, but rather told his crew to be as noble as the British were known to be.

6th stanza:

And England, and Ireland, and Scotland, And Wales,
Proved there to the World: Their valor Ne’er fails,
“The women and children first,” Was their cry,
And every one of the Crew, stood by.

In this stanza, the poet says that men from all of the British Isles were present on the crew of the ship, and they all acted in a courageous way. They told the women and children to evacuate first and watched over everything when the evacuation started.

7th stanza:

And the boats were lowered and sent away,
That cut off all hope, save eternity,
And, The Titanic sank from sight, ‘neath the Sea
While her band played, Nearer My God to Thee.

In this stanza, the poet describes how the boats that had been built for just such an eventuality were now put into the water. As they sailed away, the crew knew that there was no way that they themselves could be saved. As the Titanic kept sinking, the band on board played the hymn entitled “Nearer, my God, to Thee”.

8th stanza:

Was there ever a scene so awfully grand?
As that sinking ship, with her playing band.
All glory to Smith, and the Titanic’s men,
They bring Trafalgar’s heroes to memory again.

In this stanza, the poet says that there was no more magnificent scene than that f the band playing on the sinking Titanic. Captain Smith and his crew were as brave as the soldiers who had fought and won the Battle of Trafalgar against French troops.

9th stanza:

And that heart thrilling tale of the Alamo,
And the last grand-charge at Waterloo,
And that charge of “The Light Brigade” as well,
And Jim Bludso’s act on “The Prairie Belle.”

In this stanza, the poet compares the crew of the Titanic to the brave men in real life as well as in poetry – the ones who had fought at the Alamo and  the ones who had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo as well as the ones described in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and “Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle”.

10th stanza:

And with these down the corridors of all time,
The Titanic’s story shall sound sublime,
For never was courage more noble and true,
Than was shown on that night, by The Titanic’s Crew.

In this stanza, the poet says that the story of the Titanic deserves a place in history with all the heroes described in the previous stanza. In fact, the courage shown by the crew of the Titanic on the night it sank was unparalleled in his opinion.

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