The Inchcape Rock

The Inchcape Rock is a ballad written by English poet Robert Southey. It describes the supernatural events. It has a social message that who do bad things eventually gets punished for that. It is published in 1802.

The Inchcape Rock Analysis

Although the poem is published in 1802, Southey wrote it between 1796 to 1798. He received his inspiration from the legend of a pirate.

The legend removed the bell on Inchcape and placed it by the Abbot of Arbroath. It is due to warn the Mariners of the reef. The poem is a bit long and has the same volume as the ballads should have.

The Inchcape Rock- Robert Southey
The Inchcape Rock- Robert Southey

It has seventeen stanzas of four lines of each stanza. The first two and the last two lines of each stanza are rhymed with each other. The rhyme scheme is AABB.

The poem consists of 17 quatrains written in rhyming couplets. The ballad starts with describing how the bell installed by the abbot is attached to a buoy.

Henceforth it only rings when the Inchcape Rock is underwater and the buoy is floating.
The poem was reprinted in the Edinburgh Annual Register and published in 1812.

In a letter to Herbert Hill, on 16 August 1812, Southey mentions how “The Inchcape Rock” had “lain uncorrected among my papers for the last ten years”, until “some unknown person …thought proper to touch up & transmit for insertion”.

Southey adds a footnote suggesting that his own source of information and detailed description may have been a Brief Description of Scotland (1633).

The poem incorporates the of Southey’s The Poetical Works of Robert Southey, volume 3. This the third volume, where it is introduced by a quotation from John Stoddert’s, which elaborates “An old writer mentions a curious tradition that may be worth quoting” before going on to relate the tale.

The Inchcape Rock Summary

The Inchcape Rock is a ballad which incorporates supernatural elements of 14th century Scotland. It shares an important idea that those who commis a sin, get punished ultimately.

It has a mention of a bell that is being installed on the Inchcape rock. It is for warning the people, Mariners and sea-farers about the reef near the Scottish coast.
Later a pirate, Ralph didn’t not like the installation of the bell to save the people so he removed the bell. One fine day he lost the way himself with his ship in the gloomy atmosphere.

His vessel hit the dangerous Inchcape Rock. This way he dies on the Inchcape Rock along with his men. It is a justified punishment definitely for doing evil things.

Southey delivers the message to his readers through this ballad that one should not willingly cause harm to others. If they do, ultimately they would be punished in the end.

The Inchcape Rock

The ballad describes the story of a 14th-century attempt by the Abbot of Arbroath to install a warning bell on Inchcape, a notorious sandstone reef about 11 miles off the east coast of Scotland.

It is for warning the Mariners of the reef.
The poem portrays how the bell has been removed by a pirate. Later he dies on the reef while returning to Scotland in bad weather after some time.

The bell is cut down by a pirate. The pirate is known as Sir Ralph the Rover. He is dropped into the sea, for reasons which are still unknown.

After the removal of the warning bell Ralph says, “The next who comes to the Rock, Won’t bless the Abbot of Arbroath”.
Some time after the own ship of Ralph is founded on the rock.

Meanwhile, he is attempting to negotiate his way back to Scotland in bad weather.
The ship of Ralph sinks dramatically as he hears the Devil calling for him to Hell by ringing the bell he has removed previously, according to the classic 19th-century Romantic style.

The Inchcape Rock poem text

“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.

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

The worthy 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 rang.

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

The Sun in heaven was shining gay,
All things were joyful on that day;
The sea-birds screamed as they wheeled round,
And there was joyance in their sound.

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

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.”

The boat is lowered, 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.

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.”

Sir Ralph the Rover sailed away,
He scoured the seas for many a day, And now grown rich with plundered store,
He steers his course for Scotland’s shore.

So thick a haze overspreads the sky,
They cannot see the sun on high;
The wind hath blown a gale all day,
At evening it hath 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.”

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

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!”

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.

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.”

The Inchcape Rock Questions and Answers

  • Is the Inchcape Rock real?
A reef, the Inchcape Rock or the Bell Rock, is located in the North Sea, close to the coastal area of Angus in Scotland, to the east of estuary of Tay.
  • What is the moral of the poem Inchcape Rock?
The moral of the poem “The Inchcape Rock” is the explanation of karma. If you do evil, then you will beget evil, usually directly or indirectly from your sinister work.
  • Why was the Inchcape Rock said to be perilous?
The Inchcape rock was perilous as it wasn’t clearly visible to the sailors sailing in the sea and thus it caused many shipwrecks and deaths in the sea.
  • What is the meaning of Inchcape?
Inchcape or the Bell Rock is a reef about 11 miles (18 km) off the east coast of Angus, Scotland, near Dundee and Fife, occupied by the Bell Rock Lighthouse.