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The Inchcape Bell

Robert Southey

[Robert Southey, born 1774, died 1848. Poet Laureate and author of numerous works in prose and verse.]

No stir on the air, no swell on the sea,
The ship was still as she might be:
The sails from heaven received no motion;
The keel was steady in the ocean.

With neither sign nor sound of shock,
The waves flow'd o'er the Inchcape Rock;
So little they rose, so little they fell,
They did not move the Inchcape Bell.

The pious abbot of Aberbrothock
Had placed that bell on the Inchcape Rock;
On the waves of the storm it floated and swung,
And louder and louder its warning rung.

When the rock was hid by the tempest swell,
The mariners heard the warning bell,
And then they knew the perilous rock,
And blessed the abbot of Aberbrothock.

The float of the Inchcape Bell was seen,
A darker spot on the ocean green.
Sir Ralph the Rover walked the deck,
And he fix'd his eye on the darker speck.

His eye was on the bell and float,--
Quoth1 he, "My men, put down the boat,
And row me to the Inchcape Rock,--
I'll plague the priest of Aberbrothock!".

The boat was lower'd, the boatmen row,
And to the Inchcape Rock they go.
Sir Ralph leant over from the boat,
And cut the bell from off the float.

Down sunk the bell with a gurgling sound;
The bubbles rose, and burst around.
Quoth he, "Who next comes to the rock
Won't bless the priest of Aberbrothock!"

Sir Ralph the Rover sail'd away;
He scour'd the sea for many a day;
And now, grown rich with plunder'd store,
He steers his way for Scotland's shore.

So thick a haze o'erspread the sky,
They could not see the sun on high;
The wind had blown a gale all day;
At evening it hath died away.

"Canst hear," said one, "the breakers roar?
For yonder, methinks, should be the shore.
Now, where we are, I cannot tell,--
I wish we heard the Inchcape Bell."

They heard no sound--the swell is strong,
Though the wind hath fallen they drift along:
Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock2,
"Oh heavens! it is the Inchcape Rock!"

Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair,
And cursed himself in his despair;
And waves rush in on every side,
The ship sinks fast beneath the tide.

1 Saxon Cwaethan, to say. A Perfect now used only in the first and third persons singular of the present indicative; the nominative following the verb.

2 Notice the effective use of alliteration (i.e., the recurrence of words beginning with the same letter), which is the basis of old-English rhythm.

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