I was browsing twitter one day and saw someone mention the poem "Casabianca". I immediately read it as “Casablanca” and was intrigued. After realizing my mistake I was still curious did some digging. To my horror I found it was written about a son of a French Commander during the Napoleonic Wars who wouldn’t abandon ship before his father blew it up.
Sounds shocking yes? The poem was written by British poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans.
Before we go into the poem let me give you some background. Originally the ship you see on fire in the painting was called the 'Daupin-Royal' and was a 118 gun ship of the French Navy. During the French Revolution it was renamed the 'Sans-Culotte' which means "without knee breeches". She was renamed again some time later to 'Orient'.
During the Napoleonic Wars she carried Napoleon down to Egypt for his invasion. She was the flagship of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798. British ships of the line fired on her, eventually lighting the ship on fire. When the fire reached the powder magazine (where all the ships gunpowder is kept), she blew up, killing most of her crew, her captain, Luc-Julien-Joseph Casabianca and his young son, thus the poem.
After the Battle of Trafalgar, Viscount Horatio Nelson was put in a coffin carved from a piece of the main mast of Orient, which had been taken back to England for this express purpose.
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.