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Literature / The Nautical Ballad of Ben Bo Bohns

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In 1923, James Brookes More published The Ring of Love, a poetry book meant to showcase various classic forms of poetry in retaliation against "foolish" experimental poetry. Of the ballad examples, The Nautical Ballad of Ben Bo Bohns is a Dark Fantasy Narrative Poem concerning the ghosts of Nautical Folklore.

The Will o' the Wisp under command of Captain Ben Bo Bohns has been on its way from Kalkut Townnote  to the Western Seas for thirteen years, thirteen months, thirteen days, and thirteen hours. The first sign they're finally arriving at their destination is the appearance of the Flying Dutchman. The second sign is the manifestation of the ship of the Ancient Mariner. Lastly, the captain guarantees his crew safety from Davie Jones. From then on, the Will o' the Wisp is one of the phantom ships haunting the ocean waters.


In 1922, Edward Champe Carter had his novel Eight Bells published. A year later, a revised version with three new chapters rolled off the press. One of these chapters is an ode to James Brookes More and The Nautical Ballad of Ben Bo Bohns, which is printed in full as a recital by one of the characters. Now, this could be an honest act of admiration for one of the best-regarded writers at that time, but Champe Carter was signed on with The Cornhill Publishing Company. Brookes More had become the owner of that particular company in 1922. So, the chapter could just as well be Product Placement. The novel offers no further context for the poem, but makes it that much more clear that it was an attempt to follow in the footsteps of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.


The Nautical Ballad of Ben Bo Bohns provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Ballad of X: The title of the poem is The Nautical Ballad of Ben Bo Bohns.
  • The Captain: Ben Bo Bohns is the captain of the Will o' the Wisp.
  • Cast Full of Crazy: Much of the poem is about the individual crew members expressing their fear of the ghost ships and Davie Jones, each time followed by the captain assuring them they'll be fine. In the last two stanzas, the "crazy crew" no longer feels the need to ask about the threats.
  • Death Seeker: An interpretation what Captain Ben Bo Bohns and his crew are after. There's no elaboration given as to why the Will o' the Wisp is on a "phantom quest" and looking out for "Phantom Bay", so it can be concluded they're quite literally seeking death. Alternatively, they're already dead at the start of the poem and their journey to the ever-elusive Western Seas is about crossing the realm of the dead to reach their place of haunting.
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  • Flying Dutchman: The actual Flying Dutchman is the first ghost ship encountered. After that comes the ship of the Ancient Mariner. The Will o' the Wisp itself also is one by the end of the poem, although, unlike the other two, it seems to be so by free choice.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: "Ben Bo Bohns" is like a "Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum"-ified form of "bones". And a ship called the "Will-o'-the-Wisp" doesn't sound like anything you'd want on your path either.
  • Power Trio: The ending has the Will o' the Wisp become this with the Flying Dutchman and the ship of the Ancient Mariner.
  • Quest to the West: The Will o' the Wisp has been going westwards for over thirteen years.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: There's a mood shift in the sixth stanza where the crew embraces their new supernatural environment. The song starts with the sheets being stretched "till the cordage sings". The "crazy crew" sings along.
  • 13 Is Unlucky: Bit of an Arc Number during the first two stanzas. The Will o' the Wisp has been going westwards "for thirteen years and thirteen months and thirteen days to the dot" and they arrive at the thirteenth hour of the thirteenth day. The Will o' the Wisp also has thirteen sails.
  • Will-o'-the-Wisp: It's the name of Captain Ben Bo Bohns's ship. Since it becomes or has become a ghost ship, it's an appropriate name.