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
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.
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 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 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.
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 looked like a dark, visible speck on the green ocean. Sir Ralph walked up to his deck and saw the dark speck.
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.
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 men lowered the boat and reached the Inchcape Rock. Sir Ralph bent down and cut off the bell from the Inchcape Rock.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.