The Alien Boy--Poetry Explication

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The Alien Boy--Poetry Explication

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The Alien Boy

The poem, The Alien Boy, included in The Lyrical Tales by Mary Darby Robinson published in 1800 is no exception of her association and contribution to exploring the world of the outcast, the abandoned, the deprived, the orphaned. This particular ballad, bearing reference to the “persecution, in the sainted guise of Liberty” (8) from the very beginning, makes strong bases for deciphering the meaning of the poem in the author’s denouncement of the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution in 1789 which she supports in the beginning.

The story of little Henry, forced to live in exile with his father, a victim of persecution, perhaps factually and symbolically refers to the thousands of victims, witnessing dramatic events. The turmoil, confusion, death and destruction, sometimes the failure to reach human consensus, all part of radical reformations, often leave the individual annihilated and unwilling to be part of society. The poet seems to question also the meaning and worth of solitary existence. She equally attests that profound grief, dramatic loss and deprivation of human relationships inevitably change one’s mind and contribute the most to living in a world of one’s own psychological reality, much closer to insanity and madness.

The structure of the poem, a lyrical ballad, uses a variety of pictorial images from the solitary hut “built on a jutting crag, o’rehung with weeds”(3), marking their home, “the dreary day of cold adversity”(16), that the son has been taught to cheer “by patience and by toil”(17), “the ample net”(23) Saint Hubert weaves with stories, songs and conversations, to the “harvest rich of promised intellect”(29), young Henry displays for the delight and pride of his father. The poetic language, masterly crafted, is used to paint a picture of a hard but bearable life of ten years, almost in sync with the harsh nature, austere, unresponsive, accentuated by the use of strong adjectives like “shagg’d”, “sultry”, “rushy”, “sullen”, “dreary”, “forsaken”, “obscure”, “forsaken” etc. for the exiled. With the foreshadowing references of “friends forsaken”, “kindred massacred”; proud mansions, rich domains, and joyous scenes for ever faded,-lost!”(41, 42, and 43) the picture changes dramatically and the language becomes even more expressive, bringing the reader into the center of the unfolding drama.

Using the allegorical and symbolic strength of Nature as power of such enormity that once unleashed, destroys everything in its path, the author eludes events in history that, in spite the bravery and boldness of the participants in defense of the existing ideals of social and economic structures, end up in demise and destruction.

Oft they stole
to the rock's margin, and with fearful eyes
Mark'd the vex'd deep, as the slow rising moon
Gleam'd on the world of waters.  'Twas a scene
Would make a Stoic shudder !  For, amid
The wavy mountains, they beheld, alone,
A LITTLE BOAT, now scarcely visible;
And now not seen at all; or, like a buoy,
Bounding, and buffetting, to reach the shore !(51,52,53,54,55)

The images of the full moon in “crimson luster” (57), in contrast to “the black clouds flying swiftly”(58) intensify and foreshadow the unavoidable tragedy. Like in a superb painting of a great artist, the colors get thicker and more vivid, the strokes of the brush faster and faster. Alliteration (buoy, bounding, buffeting), assonance (small boat struggled amid the waves, a somber speck), the entire rhythm of the poem, illustrate the author’s unparallel talent.

Now the full Moon, in crimson lustre shone
Upon the outstretch'd Ocean.  The black clouds
Flew stiffly on, the wild blast following,
And, as they flew, dimming the angry main
With shadows horrible !  Still, the small boat
Struggled amid the waves, a sombre speck
Upon the wide domain of howling Death!(56,57,58,59,60,61,62)

The small boat can be interpreted as a symbol of hope, as minimal, as “a somber speck”, but existing. To rescue one’s beliefs (Christianity, as in the case of the French Revolution), one’s identity, or may be the life of a human being just as lost and as desperate as the protagonists and finding one’s “self” in the act, is the only right choice for those with dignity and valor is the poets implied view.

Down the steep
Saint HUBRET hurried, boldly venturous,
Catching the slimy weeds, from point to point,
And unappall'd by peril.  At the foot
Of the rude rock, the fainting mariner
Seiz'd on his outstretch'd arm; impatient, wild,
With transport exquisite !  But ere they heard
The blest exchange of sounds articulate,
A furious billow, rolling on the steep,
Engulph'd them in Oblivion.(85,86,87,88,89,90,91,92,93)

The revolution, presented brilliantly through the image of the storm, “a furious billow, rolling on the steep, engulph‘d them in oblivion” (93, 94) claims its victims. The following four stanzas, of ten lines each, will be dedicated to describing the physical and emotional state of the biggest victim, young Henry, who, with the lost of his father, the only human he has and knows, loses everything that connects him to life.

Nature/Life/ will continue its course more obscure, calmer, “the clear moon no longer quiver’d on the curling main, But, mist-encircled, shed a blunted light,
Enough to show all things that moved around, Dreadful, but indistinctly!  The black weed

Waved, as the night-blast swept them; and along
The rocky shore the breakers, sounding low
Seem'd like the whispering of a million souls
Beneath the green-deep mourning.(100,101,102,103,104,105,106,107,108,109)

With details carrying deep psychological meaning, enhanced by the continuously evolving image of the now mournful nature around, the reader will also experience the most ravishing feeling known to man – “the horror giving cheerless hour of total solitude!” Personification of “despair, sitting terrible on his cheek”(115), what better visual!, together with the expressive adjective enhanced images “his garb with seaweeds fringed”(129), “his wan cheek, the tablet of his mind, distort’d, fading, and worn with care”(130) will assert again the moral judgment and condemnation of the poet on injustices brought to humans by humans.


Robinson, Mary. “The Alien Boy.”