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.