The Revenge: A Ballad of The Fleet - Summary & Analysis

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INTRODUCTION

      The ballad, The Revenge was published in 1880. Sir Richard Grenville of Stow, in Cornwall, was one of the most bold and adventurous spirits of the Elizabethan Age. In 1585, he commanded Sir Walter Raleigh's seven ships to Virginia. He also fought in the Armada. In 1591, he was appointed vice-admiral of a squadron, fitted out for the purpose of intercepting a rich Spanish fleet from the West Indies. The enemy's convoy, however, surprised him at Flores and surrounded him in his single ship, The Revenge, the rest of the squadron having retired. The engagement lasted throughout the night, during which the Spaniards notwithstanding their vast superiority, were driven off fifteen times. At length the greater part of the English crew were killed or wounded, the ship too was reduced to a wreck, and no hope of rescue remained. Sir Richard was wounded, but he kept his position till he was shot through the body. Though his end was near he refused to surrender. But ultimately the offers of quarter from the Spaniards induced him to yield. Sir Richard was taken on board the Spanish ship and honourably treated, but he died soon after.

The ballad, The Revenge was published in 1880. Sir Richard Grenville of Stow, in Cornwall, was one of the most bold and adventurous spirits of the Elizabethan Age. In 1585, he commanded Sir Walter Raleigh's seven ships to Virginia. He also fought in the Armada. In 1591, he was appointed vice-admiral of a squadron, fitted out for the purpose of intercepting a rich Spanish fleet from the West Indies.
The Revenge

      The poem shows Tennyson's deep and fervent love of his country. It breathes the true spirit of courage and determination in the presence of danger. The very spirit of the Elizabethan's is infused into the lines. The heroic exploits so characteristic of the age possess an abiding fascination for us and Tennyson has admirably presented in this poem a realistic picture of Englishmen's cool courage amidst overwhelming odds, their love of adventure and their hatred of Spain. The artistic blending of romance with realism, the patriotic touches of a master-hand and the dignity of its rhyme have secured for the ballad a unique place in English literature.

CRITICAL SUMMARY

      The Spanish fleet, consisting of 53 ships, was on the track of the English fleet of only six vessels. The commander, Lord Howard, decided to sail out into the open sea and asked Sir Richard to follow. Sir Richard Grenville, commanding The Revenge, was however determined to stay on and take the sick persons on hoard. Lord Howard sailed away with five ships leaving Sir Richard alone with The Revenge. After taking all the sick persons on board, the ship sailed right through the Spanish line. The Spanish ship San Philip, supported by six others, engaged The Revenge in battle. The battle continued very fiercely for fifteen hours. The Spaniards tried to capture the English ship, but each time they were beaten back with heavy losses. Sir Richard was mortally wounded but he remained on deck inspiring and guiding his men. When there was no hope, Sir Richard decided to sink The Revenge and die with her. But the sailors wanted to surrender honourably. He was carried to the Spanish flagship with due honour where he died. Sir Richard was given a sea-burial and The Revenge soon "went down by the island crags to be lost for ever in the main."

CRITICAL APPRECIATION AND ANALYSIS

      The poem shows Tennyson's deep and fervent love of his country. It breathes the true spirit of courage and determination in the presence of danger. The very spirit of the Elizabethans is infused into the lines. The heroic exploits so characteristic of the age possess an abiding fascination for us and Tennyson has admirably presented in this poem a realistic picture of Englishmen's cool courage amidst overwhelming odds, their love of adventure and their hatred of Spain. The artistic blending of romance with realism, the patriotic touches of a master hand and the dignity of its rhyme have secured for the ballad a unique place in English literature.

      A Narrative Poem: The Revenge is a narrative poem. It aims at telling a story. It is the story of how Sir Richard Grenville, with his single ship, The Revenge, fought against Spanish ships which far outnumbered him. The story is very simple. It is told vividly without much of description. The poem, indeed, has the spirit of a ballad proper. It differs from it only in form.

      A Poem of Action: The Revenge is a splendid poem of action. It describes great and valiant action, and it does so in a language which is full of force and vigour. It rushes forward without stopping. There is no dull moment in the whole poem. It is a spirited narrative. It absorbs our attention, and carries us off our feet. It makes us breathless, and eager to know what would be the result.

      It is Heroic: The poem arouses our keen interest mainly because of the heroism of Sir Richard. He is presented as a brave fearless leader of men, who does not care even for life. He arouses our admiration and sympathy. We want him to live. We admire him even when he is captured. He does not give us the impression of having been defeated. He is purposely shown fighting against very heavy odds and this fact in itself arouses our sympathy.

      It is Patriotic: There is another reason why we are so fully absorbed in this poem. The poem appeals to our patriotism. Sir Richard is proud of his country. He dies fighting for the honour of his country. He sacrifices his life and faces death fearlessly and gladly so that the world may look upon his nation with admiration. This endears him to us, and so we are absorbed fully by the poem.

      Form and Metre: The form and the metre of the poem are best suited to its subject-matter. The metre is very rapid and light. It moves at a very quick pace. Its internal rhymes (Spanish ships of war at sea!  We have sighted fifty-three) add force to it. Thus, the action is considerably helped by the metre and the rhythm of the poem.

LINE BY LINE PARAPHRASE

      1. L. 37-42. Thousands of their soldiers.....and we stay'd. These lines have been taken from Tennyson's poem, The Reveille. They describe how The Revenge ran straight on into the midst of the enemy ships, which had arranged themselves in two rows. On both its sides were Spanish ships, and from the decks of these ships thousands of Spanish soldiers looked upon the little ship. They thought that the people on board The Revenge had gone mad, otherwise how could they think of fighting against such a large number of enemy ships? They laughed at the ship, and made fun of it. The Revenge, however, rushed on. At last it was checked by a huge Spanish ship, San Philip. The ship came between The Revenge and the wind, so that The Revenge receiving no wind, stopped. San Philip loomed large before it, with its row of guns pointing at it.

      2. L. 112-115. When a wind from the lands.....by an earthquake grew. These lines have been taken from Tennyson's poem, The Revenge. The poet here describes how, when The Revenge had surrendered, and was manned by Spaniards, a gale began to blow. It arose from the West Indies, which the Spaniards had devastated. The waves began to rise high, the wind began to blow noisily. Big waves began to rise and strike against the Spanish fleet. This storm sank The Revenge also.

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