The Inchape Rock Summary

Summary of the poem, The Inchcape Rock by Robert Southey

About the Poet

Robert Southey (12 August, 1774 – 21 March, 1843) was an English poet of the Romantic school. He was the Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death in 1843. He was friends with the famous poets William Wordsworth adn Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He was a prolific letter writer, literary scholar, essay writer, historian and biographer. Some of his famous works are – Joan of Arc (1796), The Curse of Kehama (1810). Thalaba (1801) and A Vision’s Judgement (1821).

Outline of the Poem

The Inchcape Rock is a ballad, published in 1802. It tells the story of the installation of the warning bell on Ichcape, a notorious sandstone reef about 11 miles off the east coast of Scotland, by the Abbot of Arbroath (Aberbrothok).

The poem discuses the theme of good vs evil and advocates that evil cannot go unpunished in this world. It gives out the moral message to everyone that what they sow, they will reap. There is a divine power that rules the world and delivers justice to all. It is 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 as a cause for shipwreck. The poem revolves around the famous folktale of a monk who placed a bell on the reef to send warning to seamen about the impending danger during storms.

Line by Line Explanation of the Poem

No stir in the air, no stir in the sea, 
The Ship was still as she could be; 
Her sails from heaven received no motion, 
Her keel was steady in the ocean.

The poem begins on a calm note describing the sea. The sea was calm and quiet and the ships were sailing peacefully. The winds did not disturb the ship and its keel was firmly set in the ocean.

Without either sign or sound of their shock, 
The waves flow’d over the Inchcape Rock; 
So little they rose, so little they fell, 
They did not move the Inchcape Bell.

The waves were gently moving on the Inchcape rock without making any impact on the Inchcape Bell. Waves were rising and falling without any movement on the Inchcape Bell.

The Abbot of Aberbrothok 
Had placed that bell on the Inchcape Rock; 
On a buoy in the storm it floated and swung, 
And over the waves its warning rung.

The wise Abbot of Aberbrothok had placed the bell on the rock to prevent ships from getting shipwrecked during storms. The bell was placed on a buoy. When storms occurred, the buoy would float and ring the bell, which served as a warning for seamen.

When the Rock was hid by the surge’s swell, 
The Mariners heard the warning Bell; 
And then they knew the perilous Rock, 
And blest the Abbot of Aberbrothok

When the rock was full of water during the high tide, the bell would ring and inform the sailors about the impending danger. The sailors then used to thank the Abbot of Aberbrothok for placing the bell to prevent shipwrecks.

The Sun in the heaven was shining gay, 
All things were joyful on that day; 
The sea-birds scream’d as they wheel’d round, 
And there was joyaunce in their sound.

It was a joyous day when the sun was shining brightly in the sky and the sea birds circled above, screaming and chirping.

The buoy of the Inchcpe Bell was seen
A darker speck on the ocean green; 
Sir Ralph the Rover walk’d his deck, 
And fix’d his eye on the darker speck.

The buoy looked like a dark, visible speck on the green ocean. Sir Ralph walked up to his deck and saw the dark speck.

He felt the cheering power of spring, 
It made him whistle, it made him sing; 
His heart was mirthful to excess, 
But the Rover’s mirth was wickedness. 

The happiness of spring season made Sir Ralph whistle and sing with joy. He was extremely happy. But he had a wicked plan in his mind.

His eye was on the Inchcape Float; 
Quoth he, “My men, put out the boat, 
And row me to the Inchcape Rock, 
And I’ll plague the Abbot of Aberbrothok.”

Sir Ralph was looking at the Inchcape Rock with fixed eyes. He asked his sailors to take him to the rock. He had already planned to destroy the work done by the Abbot of Aberbrothok.

The boat is lower’d, the boatmen row, 
And to the Inchcape Rock they go; 
Sir Ralph bent over from the boat, 
And he cut the bell from the Inchcape Float.

The men lowered the boat and reached the Inchcape Rock. Sir Ralph bent down and cut off the bell from the Inchcape Rock.

Down sank the Bell with a gurgling sound, 
The bubbles rose and burst around; 
Quoth Sir Ralph, “The next who comes to the Rock,
Won’t bless the Abbot of Aberbrothok.”

The bell sank down into the sea with a ‘gurgling’ sound, with bubbles rising and bursting around it. Sir Ralph proudly said that no one would ever be able to thank the Abbot from now on.

Sir ralph the Rover sail’d away, 
He scour’d the seas for many a day; 
And now grown rich with plunder’d store, 
He steers his course for Scotland’s shore.

Sir Ralph became rich by plundering and looting the ships that got wrecked at the Inchcape rock. He directed his ships to Scotland’s shores. The ships that came near the Inchcape rock could not sense the danger as the bell had been cut off by Sir Ralph. These ships were looted by him.

So thick a haze o’erspreads the sky, 
They cannot see the sun on high; 
The wind hath blown a gale all day, 
At evening it hath died away.

There came a day when the sun could not be seen. The sky was unclear and the wind kept blowing all day. Though, in the evening it died away.

On the deck the Rover takes his stand, 
So dark it is they see no land. 
Quoth Sir Ralph, “It will be lighter soon, 
For there is the dawn of the rising Moon.”

Sir Ralph was standing on the deck. It was so dark that he was not able to see the land. He hoped to see the weather pleasant at night.

“Canst hear,” said one, “the breakers roar? 
For methinks we should be near the shore.” 
“Now, where we are I cannot tell, 
But I wish we could hear the Inchcape Bell.”

One of his sailors said that he could hear the roaring of the waves. Another sailor wished he could hear the sound of the Inchcape Bell as he wasn’t sure of where they were.

They hear no sound, the swell is strong, 
Though the wind hath fallen they drift along; 
Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock, 
“Oh Christ! It is the Inchcape Rock!”

The ship of Sir Ralph crashed against the Inchcape Rock. The ship was struck with ‘a shivering shock’ by the Inchcape Rock. They called upon Christ that they have met a bad fate.

Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair, 
He curst himself in his despair; 
The waves rush in on every side, 
The ship is sinking beneath the tide.

Sir Ralph cursed himself and tore his hair in despair. The waves came in from all sides and the ship started to sink beneath the high tide.

But even is 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.

Sir Ralph could hear the dreadful sound of the Inchcape Bell ringing, but in reality it was the death knell, rung by the Devil himself. The ringing of the bell was once a blessing for the sailors, but now it was dreadful as a curse for Sir Ralph. Finally, he paid for his wickedness.