The poem The Inchcape Rock by Robert Southey refers to a bell which has been placed on a reef after many sailors have presumably lost their lives on this notorious stretch of sea. The poem begins calmly and the reader is unaware of the significance of the rock as ships remain apparently safe with their "keel [was] steady in the ocean" suggesting that the ships are upright and not in any apparent danger. However, this misleads seamen who are oblivious to the dangers they cannot see beneath the waves and "Without either sign or sound of their shock", the rock threatens their existence. This is why seamen are so grateful to the Abbot of Aberbrothok who placed a bell on the rocks and, when the sea is calm the rock is visible and bell stays silent but when it is stormy "on a buoy in the storm it floated and swung / And over the waves its warning rung." As the bell moves with the waves, it rings and this warns sailors. When sailors hear the bell, they know to steer clear of it because of the rocks and they are grateful to the abbot and thank or "blest" him.
This angers Sir Ralph the Rover and so on a clear day when "The Sun in heaven was shining gay", Ralph thinks of a plan. He "fix’d his eye" on the "speck" and feels immediately invigorated at his wicked plan. Sir Ralph intends to "plague" or upset the abbot by loosening the bell so that it sinks to the bottom "with a gurgling sound." Having done this, Sir Ralph goes about his business and "scour’d the seas for many a day." He is apparently a pirate as he intends to return home with "plunder’d store," meaning that he has stolen goods from his escapades. On the return, it is dark when they approach home and one of his men comments that he wishes he could hear the bell because he can hear "the breakers roar", suggesting that they are near the shore. As the boat drifts, it hits the rock "with a shivering shock."
Too late to do anything about it, Sir Ralph berates himself "in his despair" and finds his ship is sinking. As he is drowning, Sir Ralph does think he hears a bell just like the Inchcape Bell but it is the Devil "ringing his knell." In other words, Sir Ralph will be going to Hell.