On August 7, 1789, the U.S. Congress approved an act for the “establishment and support of Lighthouse, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers.” Two hundred years later, the Congress designated August 7th as National Lighthouse Day.

All over the world, lighthouses have long been essential to preventing shipwrecks, but they have also become symbols of our fascination with the ocean, and the subject of romantic, often melancholy, musings about the lives of their faithful but isolated keepers.


The Lighthouse

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The rocky ledge runs far into the sea,
And on its outer point, some miles away,
The Lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,
A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.

Even at this distance I can see the tides,
Upheaving, break unheard along its base,
A speechless wrath, that rises and subsides
In the white lip and tremor of the face.

And as the evening darkens, lo! how bright,
Through the deep purple of the twilight air,
Beams forth the sudden radiance of its light
With strange, unearthly splendor in the glare!

Not one alone; from each projecting cape
And perilous reef along the ocean’s verge,
Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,
Holding its lantern o’er the restless surge.

Like the great giant Christopher it stands
Upon the brink of the tempestuous wave,
Wading far out among the rocks and sands,
The night-o’ertaken mariner to save.

And the great ships sail outward and return,
Bending and bowing o’er the billowy swells,
And ever joyful, as they see it burn,
They wave their silent welcomes and farewells.

They come forth from the darkness, and their sails
Gleam for a moment only in the blaze,
And eager faces, as the light unveils,
Gaze at the tower, and vanish while they gaze.

The mariner remembers when a child,
On his first voyage, he saw it fade and sink;
And when, returning from adventures wild,
He saw it rise again o’er ocean’s brink.

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
Shines on that inextinguishable light!

It sees the ocean to its bosom clasp
The rocks and sea-sand with the kiss of peace;
It sees the wild winds lift it in their grasp,
And hold it up, and shake it like a fleece.

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 Jove,
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 nearer unto man!”

“The Lighthouse” is in the public domain.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), was the most popular American poet of his day, and one of the first American celebrities who was also known in Europe. Though he was a very private man, who suffered greatly from neuralgia (nerve pain), his public reputation was as “as a sweet and beautiful soul,” as his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson called him at his funeral. His reputation declined quickly after his death, and he has long been overshadowed by the more modern American poets such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and Carl Sandberg.



The Lighthouse Keeper

by Helen Emma Maring

In the lonely twilight hour,       
Looking forth from his old tower,
When the sunset glow has faded in the west,
Then he sees the distant things
Steeped in purple of the kings,
While the breezes come to chill at night’s behest.
Then the color from the air
Sinks to–God but knows just where,
And the interval of deepened twilight grows;
But the gleaming streaks of light
From his tower of the night
Send their word to every ship that comes or goes.

 “The Lighthouse Keeper,” by Helen Emma Maring

 Helen Emma Maring was poet who lived in Seattle, Washington. She was the editor of Muse and Mirror, a poetry journal; the literary editor for The Fourth Estate, a weekly trade paper; and contributed poems to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Several of her poems were included in Davis’ Anthology of Newspaper Verse, which was published in 1921. Her work appeared in Social Progress, a monthly paper in Chicago in the 1920s, and American Poetry magazine.


The Light-houses

by Lucy Larcom

Baker’s Island

Two pale sisters, all alone,
On an island bleak and bare,
Listening to the breakers’ moan,
Shivering in the chilly air;
Looking inland towards a hill,
On whose top one aged tree
Wrestles with the storm-wind’s will,
Rushing, wrathful, from the sea.

Two dim ghosts at dusk they seem,
Side by side, so white and tall,
Sending one long, hopeless gleam
Down the horizon’s darkened wall.
Spectres, strayed from plank or spar,
With a tale none lives to tell,
Grazing at the town afar,
Where unconscious widows dwell.

Two white angels of the sea,
Guiding wave-worn wanderers home;
Sentinels of hope they be,
Drenched with sleet, and dashed with foam,
Standing there in loneliness,
Fireside joys for men to keep;
Through the midnight slumberless
That the quiet shore may sleep.

Two bright eyes awake all night
To the fierce moods of the sea;
Eyes that only close when light
Dawns on lonely hill and tree.
O kind watchers! teach us, too,
Steadfast courage, sufferance long!
Where an eye is turned to you,
Should a human heart grow strong.

“The Light-houses” from Poems of Places, edited by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Lucy Larcom (1824-1893), American poet, author, abolitionist, and one of the first teachers (1854-1862) at Wheaton Female Seminary (now Wheaton College) in Norton, Massachusetts.  She was a co-founder of Rushlight Literary Magazine, a submission-based student literary magazine which is still published today. From 1865 to 1873, she was the editor of the Boston-based Our Young Folks. In 1889, Larcom published one of the best-known accounts of childhood in 19th century New England, A New England Girlhood, commonly used as a reference in studying antebellum American childhood, which included her years as a child laborer in a cotton mill in Lowell, Massachusetts.


On the Lighthouse at Antibes

by Mathilde Blind

A stormy light of sunset glows and glares
Between two banks of cloud, and o’er the brine
Thy fair lamp on the sky’s carnation line
Alone on the lone promontory flares:
Friend of the Fisher who at nightfall fares
Where lurk false reefs masked by the hyaline
Of dimpling waves, within whose smile divine
Death lies in wait behind Circean snares.

The evening knows thee ere the evening star;
Or sees thy flame sole Regent of the bight,
When storm, hoarse rumoured by the hills afar,
Makes mariners steer landward by thy light,
Which shows through shock of hostile nature’s war
How man keeps watch o’er man through deadliest night.

“On the Lighthouse at Antibes” from Poetical works of Mathilde Blind, edited by Arthur Symons, published in 1900

Mathilde Blind (1841-1896) born in Germany, English poet, author, biographer, essayist, and literary crtic. In the early 1870s she emerged as a pioneering female aesthete in a mostly male community of artists and writers, and by the late 1880s she had become a prominent voice and leader among ‘New Woman’  feminist writers. Best known for her poem The Ascent of Man,  a distinctly feminist response to Darwin’s  theory of evolution, and her biographies of George Eliot and Madame Marie-Jeanne Roland.



by Alfred Corn 

Pilot at the helm of a hidden
headland it steers free
from convergence with the freighter
when fog and storm clouds gather

Sparking communiqué no full stop ends
its broadcast performed in a three-sixty sweep
the cycle burning up five solar seconds

Midnight eye that blinks away
invisibility a high beam
revealing as it scans whatever seas
or ships return terra firma’s landmark gaze

“Lighthouse” © 2010 by Alfred Corn

Alfred Corn (1943 – ) American poet and essayist whose first book of poems, All Roads at Once, was published in 1976. His other collectiosn include: A Call in the Midst of the Crowd (1978), The Various Light (1980), Notes from a Child of Paradise (1984), The West Door (1988), Present (1997).  In 1987, he was awarded a Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets.


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Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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