The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Skipper Ireson’s Ride,” a ballad in nine eleven-line stanzas, is a story told through a third-person narrator who reports on the words and actions of the poem’s characters but does not take part in them. Typically, a ballad presents one dramatic or exciting episode, not a fully developed story. As the title suggests, “Skipper Ireson’s Ride” focuses on one brief moment in the man’s life: his ride out of the town of Marblehead, Massachusetts.

The poem opens by harkening back to strange rides from legends and fables that would have been familiar to Whittier’s nineteenth century educated audience: Apuleius on a golden ass, the Tartar king Calendar’s ride on a brass horse, and Muhammad’s winged mule. The tone is at the same time grand and ridiculous. Soon Ireson takes his place among this strange company, for it is revealed that Skipper Ireson’s ride is not on a swift horse or chariot, as might be expected. Instead, the refrain (repeated with slight variation at the end of each stanza) introduces

Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,Tarred and Feathered and carried in a cart By the women of Marblehead!

The next two stanzas take up the action in medias res, as the women struggle with the cart and hurl insults at Ireson. Whittier uses exaggerated comparisons to heighten the grim humor....

(The entire section is 498 words.)