Wednesday, January 26, 2011

As Born to Rule the Storm

Casabianca
by Francis Dorothea Hemans


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.

A very martial poem from a poet who is usually known for writing very 'feminine' poetry. The underlying story was a true war story: Commodore Casabianca was one of the captains who fought in the fleet of Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile; he was captain of the Orient, which was the flagship. He and his son, Giocanti Casabianca, are said to have died in the explosion of the Orient. As with most real war stories the actual facts are somewhat murky: the usual story, however, is that the young Casabianca, or perhaps the son of Vice-Admiral Brueys, who was perhaps no more than thirteen years old, refused to abandon ship even in the midst of danger because his father had told him to remain at his post.

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