The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck

Image from The Battle of the Nile

CASA BY ANCHOR.

BY SLOWCUS.

The boy stood on the burning deck,
There isn’t any doubt;
And yet who saw him on the wreck?
Who really heard him shout?

Would he have stood and roasted there
With jolly-boats so near,
And bragged about his fierce despair
Nor walked off on his ear?

Why not give one good roar for oars
Assail his pa for sail
To wait him toward the fishing shores?
Why stay aboard and wail?

What wonder standing there he seemed
So beautiful and bright?
Who couldn’t while around him beamed
That lovely Titian light?

His pow-wow with his father I
Regard as tempting fate;
If he declined to early die,
Why stay there and dilate?

“Pa, can’t you speak — a little please?
Just try a sneeze or cough,
My nearest kin, kin you release,
Or are you, father, off?”

And while his father slept below
The boy, he never stirred;
One of a “race” who never “go”
Unless they “get the word.”

He called aloud, “Am I allowed
Your leave to leave? Your son
Stands fire, you now, but don’t you crowd
The thing; I’m toasted done.

“Of course I’ll do what you desire,
If you’re laid on the shelf;
I burn with ardor — but, this fire!
You know how ’tis yourself.

“Speak father, I would be released?
I list your loving tones,”
He knew not that he pa, deceased,
Had gone to Davy Jones.

Upon his brow he felt the heat,
Yet stood serene and calm.
With only now and then a bleat,
Like Mary’s little lamb.

The yards and spars did burn and snap
All in the wildest way;
Not e’en a shroud was left the chap,
And he the only stay.

There came a bursting thunder peal —
Good gracious! Pretty soon
Boy, ship, and anchor, flag and keel,
Went up in a balloon.

And when this sound burst o’er the tide,
The boy! oh, where was he?
Ask of the winds, or none beside
Stayed long enough to see.

With mast and helm and pennon fair,
That acted well enough,
The sickest thing that perished there
Was that young sailor muff.

Now, boys, don’t take a cent of stock
In Cas-a-bi-an-ca;
The spots from such a son they’d knock,
Our Young A-mer-i-ca.

Cambridge City Tribune (Cambridge City, Indiana) Oct 26, 1871

Image from 80 Plus – an octogenarian’s blog

*****

The original poem, from the All Poetry website:

Casabianca

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 roll’d on…he would not go
Without his father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He call’d 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 roll’d 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 one 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 stream’d 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.

By Felicia Dorothea Hemans, © 1809, All rights reserved.

Editor notes

Casabianca, It tells the story of Giocante Casabianca, a 12-year old boy, who was the son of Luce Julien Joseph Casabianca. Casabianca was the commander of Admiral de Brueys’ flagship, l’Orient , Giocante Casabianca stayed at his post aboard the flagship L’Orient during the Battle of the Nile. Giocante Casabianca and his father both died in an explosion when the fire reached the gunpowder store.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Jul 21, 1894

*****

Evidently, this was a popular poem to parody – From The Guardian

“Casabianca” was soon taken up by the parodists. 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. “The boy stood on the burning deck./ His feet were covered in blisters./ He’d burnt the socks right off his feet/ And had to wear his sister’s” was the version I heard as a child.

A few more:

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Jun 24, 1895

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Feb 2, 1913

Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York) Sep 25, 1920

Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York) Jul 7, 1912

CASABIANCA.

THE BOY stood on the burning deck — an orator was he,
and in that scene of fire and wreck he spoke quite fluently,
“The men who hold the public scaps should all be fired,” he cried;
“they should make room for worthy chaps who wait their turn outside.
True virtue always stands without, and vainly yearns and tolls,
while wickedness in office shouts, and passes round the spoils.
One rule should govern our fair land — a rule that’s bound to win
all office holders should be canned, to let some new ones in.
All people usefully employed at forge, in mill or shop,
should know that labor’s null and void — man’s duty is to yawp.
The farmer should forsake his play, the harness man his straps;
the blacksmith should get busy now, and look around for snaps.
Why should the carpenter perform, when we have homes enough;
why should producers round us swarm, when statesmen are the stuff?
Why should we put up ice or hay, or deal in clothes or meat,
when politicians point the way that leads to Easy street?”
There came a burst of thunder sound; the boy — O where was he?
Ask of the winds that all around with lungs bestrewed the sea.

Walt Mason

Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York) Jun 14, 1911

THE SPENDING SPREE

The boy stood on the burning deck and soaked his aching head;
he wrote a million dollar check, then cheerily he said:
“My friends, I’ve never made a move one honest cent to earn,
but here’s where I start out to prove that I have wealth to burn.”
They called aloud, he would not go; heroic were his words:
“I’ve still got money left to throw at insects and at birds.”
And calmly midst the awful wreck while billows played wild games
he wrote another million check and fed it to the flames.
You say if you had such a boy you’d bend him o’er your knee,
and many shingles you’d deploy to curb his spending spree;
and yet you’re strutting ’round the deck as lordly as a jay
and spending money by the peck and throwing it away.
It seems that men cannot withstand the siren lure of debt;
the things their appetites demand they buy, already yet.
When times of stress and panic come they’ll utter naughty words
and wish they had the goodly sum they pelted at the birds.

CLEM BRADSHAW.

Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada) May 31, 1920

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