Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

The Inchcape Rock

Poem By Robert Southey

The Inchcape Rock is a ballad written by English poet Robert Southey (1774-1843) recounting the legend of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

Published in 1802, it tells the story of a 14th-century attempt by the Abbot of Aberbrothok ("Aberbrothock") to install a warning bell on Inchcape, a notorious sandstone reef about 11 miles (18 km) off the east coast of Scotland. The poem tells how the bell was removed by a pirate, who subsequently perished on the reef while returning to Scotland in bad weather some time later.

Like many of Southey's ballads "The Inchcape Rock" describes a supernatural event, but its basic theme is that those who do bad things will ultimately be punished accordingly and poetic justice done.


Robert Southey (1774-1843) was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the Lake Poets along with William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and England's Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 until his death in 1843.

Related Scottish Country Dances

The Bell Rock Reel

The Inchcape Rock By Robert Southey

No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,
The ship was still as she could be;
Her sails from heaven received no motion;
Her keel was steady in the ocean.

Without either sign or sound of their shock,
The waves flowed over the Inchcape Rock;
So little they rose, so little they fell,
They did not move the Inchcape Bell.

The Abbot of Aberbrothok
Had placed that bell on the Inchcape Rock;
On a buoy in the storm it floated and swung,
And over the waves its warning rung.

When the rock was hid by the surge’s swell,
The mariners heard the warning bell;
And then they knew the perilous rock,
And blest the Abbot of Aberbrothok.

The sun in heaven was shining gay;
All things were joyful on that day;
The sea-birds screamed as they wheeled round,
And there was joyance in their sound.

The buoy of the Inchcape Bell was seen,
A darker speck on the ocean green:
Sir Ralph the Rover walked his deck,
And he fixed his eye on the darker speck.

He felt the cheering power of spring;
It made him whistle, it made him sing:
His heart was mirthful to excess,
But the Rover’s mirth was wickedness.

His eye was on the Inchcape float;
Quoth he, "My men, put out the boat,
And row me to the Inchcape Rock,
And I’ll plague the Abbot of Aberbrothok."

The boat is lowered, the boatmen row,
And to the Inchcape Rock they go;
Sir Ralph bent over from the boat,
And he cut the bell from the Inchcape float.

Down sunk the bell with a gurgling sound;
The bubbles rose and burst around:
Quoth Sir Ralph, "The next who comes to the rock
Won’t bless the Abbot of Aberbrothok."

Sir Ralph the Rover sailed away;
He scoured the seas for many a day;
And now, grown rich with plundered store,
He steers his course for Scotland’s shore.

So thick a haze o’erspreads the sky,
They cannot see the sun on high:
The wind hath blown a gale all day;
At evening it hath died away.

On the deck the Rover takes his stand;
So dark it is, they see no land.
Quoth Sir Ralph, "It will be lighter soon,
For there is the dawn of the rising moon."

"Canst hear," said one, "the breakers roar?
For methinks we should be near the shore."
"Now where we are I cannot tell,
But I wish I could hear the Inchcape Bell."

They hear no sound; the swell is strong;
Though the wind hath fallen, they drift along,
Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock:
"O Christ! it is the Inchcape Rock!"

Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair,
He curst himself in his despair:
The waves rush in on every side;
The ship is sinking beneath the tide.

But even in his dying fear
One dreadful sound could the Rover hear,-
A sound as if, with the Inchcape Bell,
The Devil below was ringing his knell.


The Inchcape Rock Poem Video

The Inchcape Rock Poem - Information Video

Portrait Of Robert Southey Painting Image
"Portrait Of Robert Southey (1774-1843), English Poet" Peter Vandyke (1729-1799), Oil On Canvas, c. 1795


Dance information licensed under this Creative Commons Licence.
Text from this original The Inchcape Rock article on Wikipedia.
Text from this original Robert Southey article on Wikipedia.
Image copyright Peter Vandyke / Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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