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The poem "Inchcape Rock" by Robert Southey in a sense is an allusion to or retelling of a well-known folktale about Inchcape Rock, an area in the North Sea notable for its shipwrecks. In the legend, the Abbot of Aberbrothok had placed a bell floating on a buoy near the rock to warn mariners. The pirate Sir Ralph the Rover removed the bell so that ships would be wrecked on the rock, thinking themselves safe because they could not hear the bell. In a form of poetic justice, Sir Ralph the Rover himself dies after hitting the rock one dark night.
There are two other implicit allusions within the poem. The first is generic. Although the poem itself is written in rhymed iambic tetrameter couplets rather than ballad meter, still Southey is self-consciously imitating the genre of the traditional Scottish ballad, which had become increasingly popular in his period with the publication of Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry and Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.
Finally, the end of the poem, in which the Devil appears to be ringing the Inchcape Bell to celebrate claiming Ralph's soul, refers to another folk legend concerning the Devil.
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