The Rock and the Bubble by Louisa May Alcott
“The Rock and the Bubble” is written by the American poet Louisa May Alcott. It presents a story of a proud bubble and a steadfast rock. Through the conversation between these creatures, Alcott describes how foolish pride has a catastrophic effect on one’s life. The rock acts as a symbol of calmness, strength, and steadiness in the face of challenges. In this poem, the bubble stands for those who become ignorant of reality for their misplaced pride in their boastful self. Alcott shows the drawbacks of being like a bubble and tells readers to follow the path shown by the calm and pleasant rock.
- Read the full text of “The Rock and the Bubble” below:
The Rock and the Bubble by Louisa May Alcott Oh! a bare, brown rock Stood up in the sea, The waves at its feet Dancing merrily. A little bubble Once came sailing by, And thus to the rock Did it gayly cry, Ho! clumsy brown stone, Quick, make way for me: I'm the fairest thing That floats on the sea. See my rainbow-robe, See my crown of light, My glittering form, So airy and bright. O'er the waters blue, I'm floating away, To dance by the shore With the foam and spray. Now, make way, make way; For the waves are strong, And their rippling feet Bear me fast along." But the great rock stood Straight up in the sea: It looked gravely down, And said pleasantly Little friend, you must Go some other way; For I have not stirred this many a long day. Great billows have dashed, And angry winds blown; But my sturdy form Is not overthrown. Nothing can stir me In the air or sea; Then, how can I move, Little friend, for thee? Then the waves all laughed In their voices sweet; And the sea-birds looked, From their rocky seat, At the bubble gay, Who angrily cried, While its round cheek glowed With a foolish pride You shall move for me; And you shall not mock At the words I say, You ugly, rough rock. Be silent, wild birds! While stare you so? Stop laughing, rude waves, And help me to go! "For I am the queen Of the ocean here, And this cruel stone Cannot make me fear. Dashing fiercely up, With a scornful word, Foolish Bubble broke; But Rock never stirred. Then said the sea-birds, Sitting in their nests To the little ones Leaning on their breasts, Be not like Bubble, Headstrong, rude, and vain, Seeking by violence Your object to gain; "But be like the rock, Steadfast, true, and strong, Yet cheerful and kind, And firm against wrong. Heed, little birdlings, And wiser you'll be For the lesson learned To-day by the sea."
“The Rock and the Bubble” is a story of a bubble that once came across an immovable rock, standing firmly near the seashore. It came between the path of the bubble heading towards the shore to dance with the foam and spray of seawater. So, it arrogantly told the rock to move away. However, the rock was at that place for a long time. Even the great waves and angry winds were not able to displace it.
But, the bubble, bubbling in excessive pride, though it was the arrogance of the rock that kept it fixated at its place. For its vain attitude, it jumped right at the rock and broke, ignoring what the waves and sea-birds tried to convey. The sea-birds were looking at the scene from their nests. They told their little ones to learn from this story and act accordingly.
Form, Rhyme Scheme, & Meter
Alcott’s poem “The Rock and the Bubble” consists of twenty quatrains or stanzas having four lines each. She uses the ballad rhyme scheme (ABCB). It means that only the second and fourth lines rhyme. One has to read the first two lines of a stanza together and then the following lines to grasp the rhyming effect. The poem is written using this rhyme scheme. Apart from that, there are five syllables per line. Each line contains a combination of anapestic and iambic feet with a few variations. The overall poem is written in iambic dimeter and iambic trimeter alternatively. Let’s look at the scansion of the first two stanzas to understand the overall metrical scheme.
Oh!/ a bare,/ brown rock
Stood up/ in the sea,
The waves/ at its feet
A lit/-tle bub/-ble
Once/ came sail/-ing by,
And thus/ to the rock
Did/ it gay/-ly cry,
Alcott uses the following poetic devices in her poem “The Rock and the Bubble”.
- Personification: The poet personifies several inanimate objects such as the rock, bubble, waves, foam, spray, etc. For example, it occurs in the lines “The waves at its feet/ Dancing merrily.”
- Alliteration: It occurs in “bare, brown”, “rainbow-robe”, “friend, for”, “rough rock”, “make me”, “Bubble broke”, etc.
- Enjambment: It occurs in the first two and the last two lines of each stanza. Alcott uses this device to make one quickly read the lines. For example, the following lines are enjambed: “A little bubble/ Once came sailing by”.
- Irony: The poet uses irony in “I’m the fairest thing/ That floats on the sea.” It also in a number of instances such as “Then how can I move,/ Little friend, for thee?”
- Repetition: It is used in the line “Now, make way, make way”.
- Anaphora: It occurs in the first two lines of the fourth stanza: “See my rainbow-robe,/ See my crown of light”.
The central idea of “The Rock and the Bubble” concerns the implications of excessive pride and transgressions of one’s limits. Through this piece, Alcott tells readers to be like the rock that remains calm even if the bubble exasperates it. The rock is well aware of reality so it remains calm, kind, and pleasant to the bubble. While the vain self of the bubble devoid of common sense leads it to the catastrophic event. Furthermore, this poem also taps on the themes of arrogance, silence, and kindness. Through the rock’s symbol, Alcott presents the theme of being steadfast while facing challenges. Nothing can break one’s rock-like spirit if one is determined not to deviate from the path of faith, courage, and truthfulness.
Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation
Oh! a bare, brown rock
Stood up in the sea,
The waves at its feet
A little bubble
Once came sailing by,
And thus to the rock
Did it gayly cry,
The first two stanzas of “The Rock and the Bubble” introduces the two main characters of the poem. Alcott personifies both the “bare, brown rock” and the “little bubble”. She invests them with human attributes such as speaking, expressing pride, anger, etc.
The first line begins with an expression of wonder “Oh!”. It is a rhetorical exclamation. Alcott uses this expression in order to depict how the rock stood in the vast sea. It appears to her as a great figure, unafraid of the ferocious waves. However, it had a friendly relationship with the waves that merrily danced at its feet.
In the following stanza, Alcott presents the little, sparkling bubble which came sailing by the waves. The rock was in the middle of its path. Hence, it cheerfully cried out to the rock to move from its path. The bubble’s happy mood is reflected in its carefree, merry tone.
Ho! clumsy brown stone,
Quick, make way for me:
I’m the fairest thing
That floats on the sea.
See my rainbow-robe,
See my crown of light,
My glittering form,
So airy and bright.
In the first line of the third stanza, Alcott uses an interesting expression that gives a hint at its mindset. The bubble begins talking to the stone by using the expression, “Ho!” It is quite disrespectful to tell someone to move away in this manner. This attitude of the speaker reflects how proud it was of itself.
The bubble referred to the rock as a “clumsy, brown stone”. It uses the term “clumsy”, meaning awkward and graceless, in order to hint at its own beauty. With an uncaring tone, it tells the rock to make way for it. The reason it provides is quite comical.
The bubble is of the view that as it is the “fairest thing” among all the floating things on the sea, the rock must follow its order. One needs to be respectful to others first. Then he can get respect. In this case, the bubble’s first flaw was to be disrespectful to others. The second one is tied with the attitude of the speaker. It is the speaker’s haughtiness and pride.
The first two lines of the following quatrain contain anaphora. Alcott uses this device to connect the ideas presented in a similar fashion. Besides, it also depicts the bubble’s boastful nature. It tells the rock to see the “rainbow-robe” and “crown of light” on its surface. When the light gets diffracted from its surface, it is split into seven colors as the rainbow. Alcott compares this “rainbow-robe” to the “crown of light”. It is a use of metaphor.
Furthermore, the poet depicts its glittering form that is airy and bright. The terms “airy” and “bright” not only describe the bubble’s looks but also hints at the ideas of bragging and showing-off respectively.
O’er the waters blue,
I’m floating away,
To dance by the shore
With the foam and spray.
Now, make way, make way;
For the waves are strong,
And their rippling feet
Bear me fast along.”
In these lines of “The Bubble and the Rock”, the speaker talks about its destination. It floats over the blue waters in order to reach the shore. There it will dance with the foam and spray. So, here Alcott personifies the “foam” and “spray” as the bubble’s friends. There is also an implicit comparison between it and others like it. The foam and spray are also made of seawater, like bubbles. So, they share similar characteristics in terms of their mindset.
In the following section, the speaker’s tone becomes angry. The repetition of “make way” twice hints at the speaker’s annoyance with the rock. It is because its excessive pride blinded it from the fact that the rock could not be moved. It had to make its own way to get past the rock.
In the following line, the speaker describes how the waves’ “rippling feet” would bear it fast along the shore. In the quoted phrase, Alcott uses a personal metaphor to compare the waves to human feet. The idea of running is compared to the flowing of waves.
But the great rock stood
Straight up in the sea:
It looked gravely down,
And said pleasantly
Little friend, you must
Go some other way;
For I have not stirred
this many a long day.
In this section, Alcott captures the reaction of the rock to the bubble. The epithet “great” tied with the inanimate object “rock” describes its nature as well as its size. Though it was bare, clumsy, and brown, it had a great heart. It was aware of its potential. So, what others told about it did not matter. It was straight up in the sea. Here, Alcott refers to the straight posture of the rock to depict its confidence and strength.
The arrogant plea of the bubble could not make the rock angry. It looked down at the bubble with a serious and solemn look like an elderly person does. Thereafter, it pleasantly addressed the bubble as a “Little friend” and told it to go some other way. One can clearly see the difference between the way they spoke to each other. The bubble addressed the rock very rudely. While the rock replied in a soft and pleasant tone.
If the rick could, it would definitely make way for the bubble. Besides, it had not moved from its place for a long time. Here, Alcott presents an interesting contrast between the rock and the bubble. The former is immovable. It refers to the rock’s unyielding spirit. Whereas, the bubble floats with the flow. Such things do not last long. As they come, they go. Only the rock-like spirits filled with indomitable courage have a lasting impression on the earth.
Great billows have dashed,
And angry winds blown;
But my sturdy form
Is not overthrown.
Nothing can stir me
In the air or sea;
Then, how can I move,
Little friend, for thee?
There were “Great billows”, symbolizing hardships of a man’s life, that dashed over the rock. Still, he had not stirred a bit. Even the “angry winds”, metaphorically representing the catastrophes, tried to blow the rock away. But, he remained at its place. Those who have this willpower cannot be defeated.
In the following lines, the rock reiterates this idea by saying that its sturdy form is not overthrown. A sturdy person is one who remains confident and determined to withstand rough work or treatment. One does not inherit sturdiness. It is an art that a person learns by facing hardships.
For this reason, the rock is confident enough to say, “Nothing can stir me/ In the air or sea”. From these lines, it may seem that the rock was arrogant just like the bubble. But, Alcott has already used the term “pleasantly” at the beginning of the rock’s speech. Here, the rock’s statement does not show its arrogance. Rather it shows the rock’s confidence.
He uses this statement to remind the boasting bubble of reality. The rock deeply embedded in the seabed cannot be moved by air or even the sea. It suffers for erosion, not for displacement. So, he kindly asks the bubble how it can move. In the last two lines, Alcott uses a rhetorical question meant for hinting at the rock’s stability.
Then the waves all laughed
In their voices sweet;
And the sea-birds looked,
From their rocky seat,
At the bubble gay,
Who angrily cried,
While its round cheek glowed
With a foolish pride
The waves around the bubble also understand the bubble’s foolishness. They too were not arrogant like it. Rather, they laughed at its folly in their sweet voice. Here, the poet personifies the waves and invests them with the idea of speaking sweetly.
Some sea-birds looked at the scene from their “rocky seat”, a metaphorical reference to their nests made in the rock. They looked at the gay bubble in a similar way.
However, the rock’s pleasantry infuriated the bubble. Besides, the reactions of the waves and birds also hurt the bubble’s proud self. It could not understand that they were just laughing at its folly, not at its external features it took pride in.
The bubble cried out loud in anger. It made its round cheek glow with a “foolish pride”. In this way, Alcott compares the idea of pride with foolishness. Excessive pride in oneself, makes one do meaningless things. The same applies to the bubble.
You shall move for me;
And you shall not mock
At the words I say,
You ugly, rough rock.
Be silent, wild birds!
While stare you so?
Stop laughing, rude waves,
And help me to go!
The bubble ordered the rock as if it was a queenly figure. It said that the rock had to move for it. This remark might have made the waves and sea-birds burst out in laughter. Naturally, it angered the bubble. It told them not to mock at its words. If the bubble could understand what it was saying to the rock, it would also laugh at its own foolishness.
Furthermore, the bubble cursed the rock for its ugliness and rough surface and rebuked the birds to be silent. It asked them why they were looking at it in a satirical way. Even the waves that once helped it to sail through became its enemy. It rudely told the waves to stop laughing. They must help it to reach the shore. The rhetorical exclamation in the last line describes how angry the bubble was.
“For I am the queen
Of the ocean here,
And this cruel stone
Cannot make me fear.
Dashing fiercely up,
With a scornful word,
Foolish Bubble broke;
But Rock never stirred.
Again, the bubble makes fun of itself by saying that it is the “queen of the ocean”. How can a little being like the bubble be the queen of so vast an ocean? The bubble’s excessive pride made it blind to this fact. Though the rock conversed in a soft and calm tone, it felt “cruel” to the bubble. It thought that the rock was trying to frighten it.
Like Icarus soared high in the sky forgetting he had wings of wax, the bubble jumped at the rock without heeding to the consequences. It dashed fiercely up with scorn and broke. In the last line, the poet ironically remarks, “But Rock never stirred”. Indeed, the rocks never stir. Only the foolish ones after having a bubble-like success, soar in the air, without caring much about the implications.
Then said the sea-birds,
Sitting in their nests
To the little ones
Leaning on their breasts,
Be not like Bubble,
Headstrong, rude, and vain,
Seeking by violence
Your object to gain;
The sea-birds who were far from the scene witnessed the foolish ending of the bubble’s boastful life. They told the little ones leaning on their breasts not to be like the bubble. It was headstrong (meaning stubborn and unruly), rude, and vain (meaning egocentric). These three qualities not only make others feel offended but also have a serious impact on one’s life. Nothing great can be achieved with violence. The bubble had to move past the rock. It could have chosen a different path. But, it felt why it would move if others could. As the rock could not move, it fuelled its violent self. Finally, the bubble jumped to its own death unknowingly.
“But be like the rock,
Steadfast, true, and strong,
Yet cheerful and kind,
And firm against wrong.
Heed, little birdlings,
And wiser you’ll be
For the lesson learned
To-day by the sea.
So the seabirds told their young ones to be like the rock. They should learn from its steadiness, truthfulness, and internal strength. The rock could not be moved by either the violent waves or the angry wind. It truly spoke of reality to the bubble. Lastly, its calmness showed its true strength. Others can learn these three qualities from the rock. In the last stanza of “The Rock and the Bubble”, the seabirds told their little birdlings that they would be wiser for the lesson they learned by the sea.
The poet of “The Rock and the Bubble”, Louisa May Alcott was an American novelist, writer, and poet. She was best known for her novel Little Women (1868). Alcott produced a large number of stories for children. After her works for children became popular, she stopped writing for her adult audience. This 19th-century poem is written in allegorical form. Here, the “rock” and the “bubble” act as symbols of humbleness and self-conceit. Alcott wrote this poem for imparting a moral to the readers. It concerns the transgression of one’s limits due to their unchecked pride. The poet contrasts this idea with the kind-hearted rock that remains fixated at its place, no matter what happens around it.
Questions & Answers
The moral of the poem concerns how excessive pride in oneself can have catastrophic effects on life. Arrogance leads to ignorance. This ignorance makes one blind to reality.
In this poem, one can learn from the character of the rock. It remains calm and pleasant to the arrogant bubble. Even the waves and storm could not move it from its place due to its steadfastness and internal strength. Besides, we can also learn from the bubble’s flaws.
The central idea of the poem deals with how excessive pride made the bubble ignorant of the actions it took. Alcott contrasts the character of the bubble and the rock and tells readers to be like the latter one.
Through the sea birds’ advice to their birdlings, the poet conveys the main message of the poem. It is about being not like the bubble which was headstrong, rude, and vain. Rather it is about being just like the rock which was steadfast, true, and strong.
The bubble requested the rock to quickly make way for it as it was the fairest thing that floats on the sea. It was floating away to dance with the foam and spray by the shore.
The rock kindly told the bubble that it could not move. Nothing could stir it from its place. So, it would be better to choose a different path than confronting it to move away.
The waves and sea birds are listening to the conversation between the bubble and rock.
The waves laughed at the bubble due to its foolish behavior.
The bubble ordered the rock to move away from its path. In reply, the rock told it that nothing could move it. So, it could not move to make way for the bubble. Hearing the rock’s reply, the waves started laughing at the bubble’s stupidity.
The rock is shown as “Steadfast, true, and strong” in the poem.
The bubble has a glittering form. Its surface glittered when the light fell on it.
The bubble wants the rock to make way for it as it has to go to shore to dance with the foam and spray.
The waves danced merrily at the foot of the “bare, brown rock”.
The bubble was arrogant, unruly, and excessively proud about its glittering form. It was disrespectful to the rock even though it was foolishly wanting it to move.
The rock was calm, experienced, and strong. Though the bubble arrogantly talked with it, it replied in a pleasant tone. Besides, it was steadfast and strong as the powerful waves and storms could not stir it.
This poem highlights the meaninglessness of excessive pride in oneself
The little bubble was wearing a “rainbow-robe” and a “crown of light”.
Alcott personifies the rock in the very first lines: “Oh! a bare, brown rock/ Stood up in the sea”. In the following lines, she invests this inanimate object with the idea of speaking.
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- “Casabianca” by Felicia Hemans — In this poem, the poet talks about a steadfast, true, and strong boy like the “rock” who remained at his post as per his father’s order.
- “A Brave and Startling Truth” by Maya Angelou — This poem features the potential of humankind to make this world a beautiful place again.
- The Poem Aloud — Listen to the reading of the poem.
- About Louisa May Alcott — Learn about the poet’s life and her works.
- Facts about Louisa May Alcott — Read seven surprising facts about the poet.
- Works of Louisa May Alcott — Explore the major works by the poet.