Guest poem submitted by Gregory Marton: Yesterday's poem, "Casabianca" by Elizabeth Bishop written in 1946, is somewhat out of place without its predecessor below, written in 1829:
(Poem #1000) Casabianca
The boy stod on the burning deck, Whence all but him had fled; The flame that lit the battle's wreck shone round him o'er the dead. Yet beautiful and bright he stood, As born to rule the storm; A creature of heroic blood, A proud, though child-like form. The flames rolled on - he would not go Without his father's word; That father, faint in death below, His voice no longer heard. He called aloud - "Say, father, say If yet my task is done?" He knew not that the chieftain lay Unconscious of his son. "Speak, father!" once again he cried, "If I may yet be gone!" And but the booming shots replied, And fast the flames rolled on. Upon his brow he felt their breath, And in his waving hair; And looked from that lone post of death In still, yet brave despair: And shouted but once more aloud, "My father! must I stay?" While o'er him fast, through sail and shroud, The wreathing fires made way. There came a burst of thunder sound - The boy - oh! where was he? Ask of the winds that far around With fragments strewed the sea! With mast, and helm, and pennon fair, That well had borne their part - But the noblest thing that perished there Was that young, faithful heart.
This was better known as "The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck", and is the poem Bishop's boy recites in Poem #999. From [broken link] http://mason-west.com/ElizabethBishop/casabianca.shtml : Hemans's poem commemorates the death of Young Casabianca, a boy about thirteen years old, son to the Admiral of the "Orient", who remained at his post in the Battle of the Nile after the ship had taken fire, and all the guns had been abandoned; and perished in the explosion of the vessel, when the flames had reached the powder. The Battle of the Nile, in which Nelson captured and destroyed the French fleet in Aboukir Bay, took place on August 1, 1798. Hemans's "Casabianca" came to me through one of the most inspiring pieces of text I've ever read. Alan Turing, in his famous 1950 paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", describes the famous Turing Test. He asserts that machines will someday "think" in the sense of that word that we use for ourselves, and was the first to describe, by his imitation game, a means to tell whether a machine was doing so. In the paper Turing also describes constructing an intelligent machine by constructing first a child machine, then training it as one would a child. In describing why Skinnerian operant conditioning, a series of rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad, would not be the best training approach, Turing says: Roughly speaking, if the teacher has no other means of communicating to the pupil, the amount of information which can reach him does not exceed the total number of rewards and punishments applied. By the time a child has learnt to repeat "Casabianca" he would probably feel very sore indeed, if the text could only be discovered by a "Twenty Questions" technique, every "NO" taking the form of a blow. At first I thought Turing had mistyped "Casablanca" but looked and found otherwise! Indeed the metaphor is most apt, especially in light of Bishop's version (1946): the child machine, the only sort of boy designed not to run or fight back, reciting in "stammering elocution" the poem until by blows he gets it right. The machine, the most obstinate of little boys -- it's this boy that I as an AI grad student love, even if he'll not for some time yet pass Turing's test or run from burning flames. We'll get there. :-) Gremio.