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Literature / Casabianca

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The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled —
Spike Milligan, Casabazonka

No, not that very quotable film, Casabianca is a poem by British poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans and was first published in the Monthly Magazine for August 1826. The full text can be read (amongst many other places) at the "Celebration of Women Writers" site.

Like The Charge of the Light Brigade, Casabianca is an epic poem about a historical event; in this case, the Battle of the Nile and the French ship Orient (commanded by Louis de Casabianca) catching fire, and his son Giocante (aged between ten and thirteen) refusing to desert his post without being ordered to do so by his father (who, unknown to the boy, was already dead). The ship subsequently exploded in one of the largest fireballs of the pre-dynamite age. It is famously parodied by Spike Milligan in the above quotation, although the word "twit" could describe Louis de Casabianca's entire strategy in that battle.


Its being force-fed to generations of children in English classes has ensured its longevity as one of the best bad poems in English, along with The Charge of the Light Brigade and the entire works of William McGonagall.

Casabianca contains examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: Whole books could be filled with them. This trope (especially Casabazonka, see top of page) is the main reason why this poem is still remembered at all.
  • Honor Before Reason: Casabianca refuses to abandon his post (or disobey his father) despite the evident danger and the fact that everyone else has Abandoned Ship.
  • Purple Prose: even for a poem, it gets quite violet:
    They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
    They caught the flag on high,
    And streamed above the gallant child,
    Like banners in the sky.


Example of: