Sunday Poetry – Felicia Hemans

Everyone knows the first two lines of this poem, Casabianca, by Felicia Hemans (picture from here), so I thought I’d post it this week so we can all read the rest. Hemans was a very famous poet in her time but this is probably the only poem of hers that has survived. Casabianca is the name of the 13 year old boy, son to the ship’s captain, who, during the Battle of the Nile, stayed on board the burning ship while everyone else escaped. He was waiting for his father’s permission to leave his post but, unfortunately, his father was dying below decks. Whether the incident ever happened has been disputed but the poem was very popular as a recitation at concerts & in the schoolroom for many years.

        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 childlike 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 splendor 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 that perished there
        Was that young, faithful heart.

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