What is it about a lighthouse and lighthouses in general? They seem to trigger tales of adventure or danger or disaster. They attract artists and photographers who want to capture their majesty and stalwart strength against nature. Writers such as Edgar Allan Poe with his unfinished “The Light-House” and Virginia Woolf with her novel To the Lighthouse were lured by them. Lighthouses can make us think of the lonely life of the watchman, the saga of an endangered ship. Specialized memorabilia collectors enjoy anything lighthouse related, from books to small model replicas to plates. Tourists make sure to visit them, many of which are recognized landmarks.
Poets are not to be outdone. “The Lighthouse” by famed American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow catches the might of the lighthouse and ends with these four verses:
The startled waves leap over it; the storm
Smites it with all the scourges of the rain,
And steadily against its solid form
Press the great shoulders of the hurricane.
The sea-bird wheeling round it, with the din
Of wings and winds and solitary cries,
Blinded and maddened by the light within,
Dashes himself against the glare, and dies.
A new Prometheus, chained upon the rock,
Still grasping in his hand the fire of love,
it does not hear the cry, nor heed the shock,
but hails the mariner with words of love.
“Sail on!” it says: “sail on, ye stately ships!
And with your floating bridge the ocean span;
Be mine to guard this light from all eclipse.
Be yours to bring man neared unto man.
I tried a poem about a lighthouse using the ghazal form, which I learned about in a poetry workshop. A ghazal has a series of couplets, each line having the same number of syllables. The second line ends with the same word or group of words, preceded by a rhyme. (Only in the first couplet do both lines end with the same word or group of words.) “Whirling mist and sea,” is the group of words I used. The rhyme preceding it is a single word – “light,” “bright,” etc. The last couplet traditionally includes the poet’s name and a grander thought.
A beacon stands through day and night by the whirling mist and sea,
in foggy darkness flashes bright by the whirling mist and sea.
Constant is its gaze on crashing waves, ruthless, dark, forbidding.
Sailors espy the beam’s great might by the whirling mist and sea.
Lantern room windows fog with mist, cleaned by the faithful keeper,
who daily tends the lantern light by the whirling mist and sea.
Storm hangs heavy in ominous air, gloomy and unfriendly,
as shipmen trust the pillar white by the whirling mist and sea.
Its foghorn blast warns mariners brave of waves and rocky shores,
to guide their ship exact and tight by the whirling mist and sea.
A stately lighthouse, steady and true, does Carol long to see,
strong in a world striving for right by the whirling mist and sea.
A lighthouse with all its possibilities and lore might be the key into your next short story or poem. Or try your hand at a ghazal! And what is it about lighthouses? Aside from Turner’s romanticized painting and Longfellow’s idealism, to me, they have a noble tradition and history. And a mystique that invites a story.
Staying at one is on my bucket list. Love your post and the poems.
Thank you, Eve. Great bucket list idea. Now that would be fun. Wonder what being in a lighthouse feels like! Hope you write about it!
I love lighthouses. When we were on the St Lawrence Seaway last fall, I took a gazillion pictures of each new one we came upon. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, the photos and your poetry.
Hope you post some or write about one! Would love to see them.
While I was a graduate student at Brown, I spent a month on an island in Newport Harbor doing archaeological survey. There was a lighthouse that was saved by local people in Rhode Island. It has a cool, rock interior with winding stairs that lead to the viewing/living quarters. It has a lovely view of the tip of Newport, Rhode Island and a view out to the open sea. From 4 stories up, you can look down upon the sailboats and casual visitors in their fishing boats or their yachts. The lighthouses are lonely places in general. They guard against tragedy so few can come close enough to visit and they stand bravely against the gales warning sailors all of unseen dangers. I just found out today that they’ve found Captain Cook’s ship, the Endeavor, in the bay. Wish I’d known it was there. It would have been even more romantic.
The lighthouse is intriguing. I’m glad it was saved and restored. Do you happen to know its age? I can imagine climbing the stairs to reach the top story, the number of times the keeper would do this. Exciting about Captain Cook’s ship. Glad you stopped by!
Nice writing. And there is something fascinating about them.
Interestingly Robert Louis Stevenson the Scottish author was related to Robert Stevenson himself famous for building countless lighthouses around the British Isles.
Thank you. Did not know that about Robert Stevenson. Fascinating. Lighthouses seem to have a universal appeal and stir up all kinds of information, thoughts, and feelings.
There is definitely something special about lighthouses! Thanks for writing such an interesting poem – I think they are heroic lifesavers and indeed a symbol of what is needed in a troubled world. The image at the top of my about page: https://unauthoredtext.wordpress.com/about/ is actually taken inside a lighthouse (South Stack, near Holyhead in Wales) and is a close up of the lantern. I’ll be staying for a few days in an old lighthouse keeper’s cottage in Orkney next month, and am hoping for inspiration!
I think you’ll find a great deal of inspiration and soak up all sorts of atmosphere and insights during your stay in a lighthouse keeper’s cottage. I’m envious! Your header photo is interesting. I agree, lighthouses are symbolic, stalwart places and we need more of their guiding light in the world. Glad you stopped by.