CASABIANCA Poetry/Poem by Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835)
THE boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but him 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.
This analysis of “Casabianca” is reprinted from Historic Poems and Ballads. Ed. Rupert S. Holland. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1912.
THE story of this brave boy has become famous through Mrs. Hemans’ poem, but although the incidents related in it have been ascribed to a number of battles at sea, there is no historical proof that such a boy took part in any of them. Usually, however, he is spoken of as the ten-year-old son of Admiral Brueys, commander of the French man-of-war L’Orient.
This ship was engaged in the battle of the Nile 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. During the battle the French Admiral Brueys was mortally wounded, and was left on the deck of his ship. As night came on the ship was seen to be on fire, and Nelson ordered his men to board her and rescue the officers and crew. All the Frenchmen left except the boy Casabianca, who refused to go, saying that his father had told him not to leave the ship, and that he could not disobey that order.
The man-of-war was in danger of blowing up at any minute, and the English sailors had to put off in their boats. They had barely time to pull away before the flames reached the powder and the ship exploded.
Although it cannot be said positively that Casabianca was the boy of the battle of the Nile, facts seem to prove that a boy did such an act at that battle.