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Casabianca is a poem by Felicia Hemans (who was, before about 1950, generally credited as "Mrs. Hemans" or "Mrs. F. D. Hemans"). The title of the poem is far, far less familiar than its first line: "The boy stood on the burning deck".

This poem was a staple of elementary school readers in the United States over a period of about a century spanning, roughly, the 1850s through the 1950s. So often memorized and recited as to lose any shred of meaning or emotion, it is today remembered mostly as a tag line and as a topic of parodies.

The poem opens:

    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.

The poem commemorates an actual incident that occurred in 1798 during the Battle of the Nile aboard the French ship L'Orient. The young son (his age is variously given as ten and thirteen) of commander Louis de Casabianca remained at his post and perished when the flames caused the magazine to explode.

In Hemans' and other tellings of the story, young Casabianca refuses to desert his post without orders from his father. (It is sometimes said that he heroically set fire to the magazine to prevent the ship's capture by the British.) It is not clear how any details of the incident are known beyond the bare fact of the boy's death. Hemans writes:

    The flames rolled on—he would not go
        Without his Father's word;
    That father, faint in death below,
        His voice no longer heard.

Hemans has him repeatedly, and heart-wrenchingly, calling to his father for instructions: "'Say, Father, say/If yet my task is done;'" "'Speak, father!' once again he cried/'If I may yet be gone!;'" and "shouted but once more aloud/ 'My father! must I stay?'" Alas, there is, of course, no response.

She concludes by commending the performances of both ship and boy:

    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.

McGuffey's New Fourth Eclectic Reader (1866) takes this poem as the topic of Lesson LV and, of course, treats it with utter seriousness. After urging the reader to "Utter distinctly each consonant: terrible, thunders, brave, distant, progress, trust, mangled, burning, bright," it introduces and present the poem, following it with a set of thought-provoking questions: "What is this story about? Who was Casabianca? By whose side did he stand in the midst of battle? What happened to his father? What took fire? What did the sailors begin to do? What did the little boy do? Why did he stand there amid so much danger? What became of him?"

Generations of schoolchildren who never could fathom why he stood there amid so much danger, created parodies. One, recalled by Martin Gardner, editor of Best Remembered Poems went:

    The boy stood on the burning deck,
        The flames 'round him did roar;
    He found a bar of Ivory Soap
        And washed himself ashore.

Michael R. Turner, editor of Victorian Parlour Poetry, contributed:

    The boy stood in the waiting room,
        Whence all but he had fled;
    His waistcoat was unbuttoned,
        His mouth was gorged with bread...

The personal recollections of one Wikipedian include:

    The boy stood on the burning deck
        Eating peanuts by the peck;
    His father called, he would not go
        Because he loved those peanuts so.

The Poetry Library website contains many others, including:

    The boy stood on the burning deck,
        Picking his nose like mad;
    He rolled it up in tiny balls
        And threw it at his dad.

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