Poetry Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

In "Inchcape Rock," why and how did Sir Ralph's ship sink?

Expert Answers info

Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write7,057 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

"Inchcape Rock" by Robert Southey is a short narrative poem based on a Scottish tradition. According to the poem, the Abbot of Aberbrothok had placed a bell on Inchape Rock, a reef that could be covered by the high tide and which thus constituted a major hazard for ships. The bell would alert mariners to the proximity of this hazard, allowing them to avoid it.

Sir Ralph the Rover was a pirate who profited by scavenging the wreckage from ships that ran aground in storms. He removed the bell from Inchape Rock in order to lure unsuspecting mariners to wreck their ships on the rock so that he could steal their cargoes.

During one storm, after Sir Ralph had removed the bell, his ship was sailing looking for potential wrecks he could plunder. In the darkness and the absence of the bell as a navigational aid, Sir Ralph's ship struck Inchcape Rock and the waves rushed in through the damaged hull causing the ship to sink.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Madeleine Wells eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write3,289 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

Sir Ralph's ship sank because it crashed onto the Inchcape Rock. As the ship filled with water, it sank.

Every ship floats because the buoyancy force (the force that pushes up the ship) is greater than the gravity force (the force that weighs the ship down). In Sir Ralph's case, as the ship filled up with water, the extra weight increased its gravity force relative to its buoyancy force. That's why it sank.

In the poem, the Abbot of Aberbrothok had put a bell on a buoy to warn sailors about the "perilous" Inchcape Rock. However, Sir Ralph had effectively "cut the bell from the Inchcape Float" so that "“The next who comes to the Rock,/ Won’t bless the Abbot of Aberbrothok.” Sir Ralph had been intent upon causing others harm, but he himself later fell prey to his own machinations.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial