Thursday, June 12, 2014

Heroism in Battle and Poetry

By Laurie Epps

The story of the boy of Casabianca is shrouded in mystery. There's not enough attention paid to it in classrooms in America. I know it was written across the pond in the U.K. but it has strong literary value. This poem was memorized and recited by school children in England up till the 1930s. Proper homage should be paid.

But first, I'm going to tell you a little about the poet herself, and she had a love of literature at young age just as I did. After a very minimal amount of research, I learned I've got a lot in common with Felicia Dorothea Hemans.
Felicia Dorothea Hemans

Felicia Dorothea Hemans, Bio

  • Born in Liverpool, England
  • Romantic era poet
  • Daughter of a merchant and granddaughter of the consul
  • Her family relocated to Wales in 1800 due to financial difficulty.
  • Felicia was an early and voracious reader.
  • She made full use of the family library and her mother tutored her in several languages.
  • Hemans spent two winters in London and was captivated by classical art there.
  • She published her first set of poems in 1808 at the age of 14.
  • Felicia married Captain Alfred Hemans in 1812, and their union produced five children.
  • Her husband didn't return from a trip to Italy in 1818, so she was left to support herself and her children with the income from her poetry.
  • Hemans was very influenced by William Wordsworth and Lord Byron, and produced 19 Volumes of poetry including: The  Domestic Affections and Other Poems (1812), Records of Woman: with other Poems (1828), and Siege of Valencia (1823).

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.
Painting George Arnald
  • Poem is from her book, "Homes of England."
  • Most scholars believe it's based on a real event.
  • The ship was in the Battle of the Nile that was fought between Napoleon and the English on August 1, 1798.
  • Nelson was in command of the English fleet, and won one of his greatest victories.
  • French Admiral Brueys was left mortally wounded on his ship.
  • At night, the ship was ablaze and most of the crew fled except the boy Casabianca.
  • The boy wouldn't disobey his father's orders, and perished in the fire.
  • Although it can't be said positively that the poem is about the Battle of Nile, a boy did die in the same circumstances in that battle.

Many say that the boy's death was a tragedy, others regard him as a hero. What do you think? Weigh in!

Laurie Epps is a recent graduate of Anderson University majoring in Creative Writing. Already Laurie is most published as a feature article writer, essayist, and poet. A seeker of beauty and world traveler, Laurie hopes to grow into a career in travel writing illuminating the many stories that make us human despite our differences. Currently, Laurie also has a Monday Morning Book Club column dedicated to writers everywhere.

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