James T. Fields’ poem "Ballad of the Tempest" expresses the despair of sailors when facing a tempestuous storm on the ocean and shows how an innocent child can bring people hope in adversity. Fields uses the first four stanzas to recreate a situation in which a storm struck a ship’s crew and describes how it mentally hurt the sailors. Then the last two stanzas show readers how the sailors overcame the natural disaster.
Throughout the poem, Fields’ writing technique gives readers a great reading experience. As the title suggests, Fields wrote this poem in the form of a ballad formed by four-line stanzas with consistent trimeter. He starts each line with two unstressed syllables followed by three alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. This creates a combination of anapests and iambic feet. This poem rhymes in the lines with even numbers, forming a pattern of ABCB. The rhyming feet also use a combination of masculine and feminine endings. Fields also used a technique called alliteration, which repeats the same letter sound in one line. He starts all the stanzas after the first with conjunction words. The words "So," "As thus," "But," and "Then" connect each stanza tightly to the one before it. Thus, these methods helped readers to read the poem out loud fluently and with rhythm.
The poem starts by introducing the time, the weather, and the people involved in this story. In the first line, Fields uses the word "crowded" to describe how the sailors have arranged themselves on the ship. The word "crowded” also represents the nervousness and intensity of the sailors. Moreover, in line 2 Fields tells readers that "Not a soul would dare to sleep-," pushing the intense situation to the next level. Then he explains to readers in lines 3 and 4 why the sailors are so nervous by introducing their location, the time, and the bad weather they are facing. Fields uses rhyme at the end of even-numbered lines in this stanza. For instance, the word "sleep" in line 2 and "deep" in line 4 forms a masculine rhyme that ends with a stressed sound. Also, Fields uses alliteration in the first stanza. The words "Crowded" and "Cabin," "Soul," and "Sleep" are the ones repeating the sound. By using alliteration and rhyme, Fields made his poem sound more pleasing and emphasized the dangerous situation on the sea.
In the second stanza, Fields continues to explain to the readers why it is dangerous to meet storms on the sea in winter. First, he describes how powerful the storm is. Fields writes that the ship is being "shattered in the blast" to represent the potential damage the storm could deal to the ship. What makes things even worse is that they are sailing in winter. Fields uses the word "rattling" in line 3 of stanza 2 to describe the noise created by the thunder. Moreover, Fields also writes down the order given by someone, "Cut away the mast!" in line 4. In this stanza, Fields not only gives readers a picture of the kind of situation the sailors are facing but also indicates the sounds they hear. Combining the sound of thunder and people's shouting, Fields used the technique of imagery which makes readers feel the same tension as the sailors tossing on the dangerous sea.
In stanza 3 Fields then shows readers how powerless humans are when facing natural disasters. He begins the stanza with the word "So," representing that the following events are the sailors’ reaction to the situations mentioned in the previous two stanzas. Fields uses the words "shuddered" and "silence" to show the powerlessness of the ordinary sailors. Even the strongest of them, "the stoutest" one, can do nothing but hold his breath. Compared to the silent humans, nature is not quiet at all. Fields uses metaphor and personification to describe the sea as a hungry beast roaring and holding a conversation with Death. He smartly uses the word "talked" in the last line, which suggests that the sea is making a deal with death about whether to kill the sailors or not. The situation ultimately shows the readers how powerless humans are when facing nature, just like a sitting duck waiting for the butcher to come over.
In the fourth stanza, Fields continues to tell readers what the sailors do in such bad weather on the sea. In the first line, the word "darkness" is the keyword to describe what the sailors are thinking. Not only is the ship dark, but there is also no hope in the sailors' hearts. The only thing that can keep them busy is praying. Again, Fields writes down a speech from their captain: "We are lost!" This serves as an ice breaker that breaks the silence and brings hope for the crew. Fields’ words created a tense mood which showed the readers the hopelessness of the sailors.
Fields introduces the sailors’ savior, their captain's little daughter, to the readers in stanza 5. To start the stanza, he writes, "But his little daughter whispered." Typically, it is hard to hear a small girl's whisper in a crowded ship full of male sailors. However, since everyone is silent, all the people can hear her voice clearly. Fields uses the word "icy" to describe the captain's hand to remind readers it is still a cold winter. The word “icy” also represents that the captain is as scared as the other sailors. And with the move of holding her father's hand, the readers feel adoring of this girl and her kindness. Then, Fields shows readers the key to breaking the hopeless situation. In the last two lines, he repeats the girl's words: "'Isn't God upon the ocean, / Just the same as on the land?" This simple sentence not only breaks the silence by showing the naïve girl's thoughts but also brings humor and hope to the sailors. Readers can notice how important these words are because of the innocent girl. Her words are simple truth that is easily forgotten by adults. They give the sailors hope and courage to break through the storms.
In the final stanza, the captain and his fellows find relief in the girl's words and fight back against the storm. The captain kisses his daughter, thanking her for bringing hope for the crew. Here, Fields starts the second and third lines of the stanza with the same words: "And we spoke in better cheer, / And we anchored safe in harbor." The readers can feel the crew’s power with the two "And we…" phrases, which make it seem like they finished cheering up and anchored safely in harbor almost instantly. After the sailors decide to fight back against the storm, there is no hesitation. At last, the ship sails back to the harbor safely with "the moon… shining clear." This represents the end of their trip and the end of the bad weather. The storm is gone, and the ship safely reaches its destination, which gives the story a happy ending.
Fields' poem "Ballad of the Tempest" used his personal experience to tell readers a story of facing a natural disaster. When Fields was young, his father was a captain of a ship and died very early. Fields grew up with his brother among the wharves along the fast-flowing Piscataqua River (“James T Fields”). He also took part in sailing and boating as a teenager. In the poem’s story, humans are powerless against the storm and lose the courage to fight back. No matter how strong their bodies are, it is still impossible to fight nature. However, a young girl's words show her naivete and magically give the sailors hope. Fields's poem teaches readers never to lose hope when facing discouragement and to think straightforwardly like young children.