Felicia D. Hemans The speaker in the poem narrates that Casabianca was standing alone on the board of the ship which was already caught by fire. The flames of the fire were rising all around him, but he was so brave that he did not move an inch and did not have a single sign of fear in his face.
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L ast week on the books blog, posters discussed a possible feature on forgotten bestselling novels. The idea converts well to poetry, because, while even excellent works of fiction tend to disappear if they haven't quite made the grade as "classics", once-popular poems stay around, evergreen in the traditional anthologies that still sit, fat and dusty, on most people's bookshelves.
We've sometimes pulled out poems or poets from the Poem of the week bookshelf that are undeservedly neglected. Some were neglected even in their own time. This week, I'm asking you to train your jeweller's spy-glass on an old favourite, "Casabianca", perhaps the most loved and widely-anthologised poem of the 19th century.
The best-selling Liverpudlian poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans was an ambitious, prolific writer, who produced larger-scale works than "Casabianca" She has deserved some recent efforts at reappraisal, but my question is not about her overall reputation.
It's whether this poem deserves the 21st century's attention. Is it diamond or paste? As we've recently discussed on this forum, a good parody demands such close reading it might almost be thought an ironical act of love. But most of the anonymous parodists of "Casabianca" didn't get beyond the first verse. It's not hard to understand the magnetic attraction to irreverence. No one, least of all the young, likes poetic ernestness, especially when it advertises extreme filial duty.
Besides, the opening narrative has a touch of absurdity: a boy can't really be standing on a deck that's burning underneath him, can he? It's the point of the poem, that the boy does stand his ground and perish in the flames, but perhaps Hemans introduces the theme prematurely, or without sufficient precision. The poem has its moments of triumph. Verses eight and nine are particularly vivid. By the end, I feel almost moved, in the AE Housman sense: a tingle on the skin, a glisten in the eyes.
Almost, but not quite. The poet's praise of "mast, and helm, and pennon fair" seems a misjudged distraction. Why even begin to compare them with the boy's "faithful heart"? As a whole, I'm afraid "Casabianca" punches at the weight of melodrama rather than tragedy. And, too often, the technique fails the sentiment.
That first verse, again, is a culprit, with the casual, rhyme-led syntax of "Shone round him o'er the dead. When it comes to dialogue, the boy's elegant phrasing may be intended to convey noble stoicism, but it sounds more as if he's enunciating a part in a rather bad play.
Hemans tries to register his growing desperation, but that final plea seems marred by the possessive pronoun. Surely, no child would shout out "My father" instead of "Father" or "Papa" at such a terrifying moment?
The word is present for the sake of an un-stressed syllable. It's not demanded by the energy of the voice, it's demanded by the iambic metre. Perhaps the best thing, poetically, about "Casabianca" is that it inspired a later, greater poet, Elizabeth Bishop. Somehow the figure in Bishop's poem, "stammering elocution" while the burning ship goes down, has more human pathos than the real child in the Hemans poem.
Bishop reminds us of another reason for "Casabianca's" popularity: it was ideal recitation material. As all performance poets know, you can get away with a bit of dead wood if you deliver it with style. But modern readers shouldn't forget that Hemans sourced her tale in a historical event. Whether or not the young Giocante Casabianca actually sacrificed himself as the poem claims there seems to be no evidence , it's certain that both the boy and his father, Commodore Casabianca, were killed on the French flagship, l'Orient.
The ship had caught fire, and, when the flames reached the powder kegs, it exploded. Hemans did not, then, write a jingoistic set of verses about British heroism during the Napoleonic wars, but chose to describe a French tragedy, in a poem running counter to nationalist stereotype, and appealing to universal human emotions.
Its heart is in the right place, if, not always, its technique. And perhaps that's why few parodists get beyond the first verse. The comedy would become too dark, too callous, and simply not funny any more.
So, is "Casabianca" still worth reading? Is it good verse but bad poetry, or not even good verse? Over to you. Topics Poetry Carol Rumens's poem of the week. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded.
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Casabianca Summary by Felicia Dorothea Hemans
The poem Casabianca is an ode to the spirit and unflinching moral fortitude of a young boy named Casabianca. Faced with the worst odds and obstacles he fights bravely to his death. The beginning of the poem sets the tone of heroism and courage that is exemplified by young Casabianca. Some have died while others are selfishly busy trying to find an escape while this young boy stands undeterred.
Casabianca by Felicia Dorothea Hemans: Summary and Analysis
It is written in ballad meter , rhyming abab. It is about the true story of a boy who was obedient enough to wait for his father's orders, not knowing that his father is no more alive. The poem commemorates an actual incident that occurred in during the Battle of the Nile aboard the French ship Orient. Giocante, the young son his age is variously given [ by whom? In Hemans' and other tellings of the story, young Casabianca refuses to desert his post without orders from his father. It is sometimes said, rather improbably, that he heroically set fire to the magazine to prevent the ship's capture by the British. It's said that he was seen by British sailors on ships attacking from both sides but how any other details of the incident are known beyond the bare fact of the boy's death, is not clear.