I wrote a blog about parlor poetry a while ago, and thought about revisiting the subject. The poem in question is Casabianca. Don’t know it? Well it was a staple of elementary school readers in the United Kingdom and the United States over a period of about a century spanning, roughly, the 1850s through the 1950s.
More than that. Whether you read Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, or Ian Fleming’s ‘Moonraker’ you’ll find references to it. In film, look for it in ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, or ‘The Unit’ and others.
The poem by Felicia Heman, celebrates an event during the Battle of the Nile in 1798 aboard the French ship Orient.
Here is the complete poem.
The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.
Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though child-like form.
The flames rolled on–he would not go
Without his Father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.
He called aloud–‘say, Father, say
If yet my task is done?’
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.
‘Speak, father!’ once again he cried,
‘If I may yet be gone!’
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.
Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death
In still yet brave despair.
And shouted but once more aloud,
‘My father! must I stay?’
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.
They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.
There came a burst of thunder sound–
The boy–oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!–
With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part–
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.
The young son, Giocante, of Commander Louis de Casabianca remained at his post. His name would have been forgotten, but for this poem.
Whenever you doubt the power of words and poems, just utter the first line of this poem and see who with you knows some more of it.
To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net