Monday, May 25, 2009

Casabianca by Felicia Dorothea Hemans

I hardly ever hear it referenced today but I was always taken with the imagery of this poem familiar to me from my childhood and at one time a popular reciter. Perhaps it is better known in Britain than here in the US and may have greater currency there.

There is an odd parallelism between Casabianca and Whitman's O Captain. Not an equivalence but both painting a mortal portrait of maritime fathers and sons.

Heman apparently based her poem on an actual event. Giocante Casabianca was the young son of the French captain of the French ship Orient, Louis de Casabianca. At the battle of the Nile in 1798 the Orient was completely obliterated when her magazine took fire.

Casabianca by Felicia 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.

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