I recently came across three lighthouse poems which should delight anyone who loves lighthouses. All were written by women. Does that really matter? Feminists and literary critics would probably say ‘No’. However, there is a difference between men and women in the way they perceive and react to reality in general. The three poems that follow remind me of what the French writer and feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, said about women and poetry in her 1949 book ‘The Second Sex’ (‘Le deuxième sexe’):
“When not encountering love, she may encounter poetry. Because she does not act, she watches, she feels, she records; she responds deeply to a color or a smile; because her destiny is scattered outside her, in cities already built, on mature men’s faces, she touches and tastes both passionately and more gratuitously than the young man. As she is poorly integrated into the human universe, and has trouble adapting to it, she is, like the child, able to see it; instead of being interested only in her grasp of things, she focuses on their meaning; she perceives particular profiles, unexpected metamorphoses.”
— from Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’ (2009, translation by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier)
by Lucy Larcom (American, 1824 – 1893)
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.
by Katharine Lee Bates (American, 1859 – 1929)
In seas far north, day after day
We leaned upon the rail, engrossed
In frolic fin and jewel spray
And crystal headlands of the coast.
Those beauties held so long in gaze
Have melted from my mind like snow,
But still I see through rifted haze
The wizard tower and portico
That flashed one instant, white and whist,
A grace too exquisite to keep,
A picture springing from the mist
As a dream comes shining out of sleep.
I do not know what name he wrote,
Our captain, in his good ship’s log,
For that sea-wraith, —how men denote
Our fleeting phantom of the fog;
But yet across the world I thrill
With rapture of that ivory gleam,
That sudden shaft of glory, till
It wears the wonder of a dream.
Faro en la noche
por Alfonsina Storni (argentina, 1892 – 1938)
Esfera negra el cielo
y disco negro el mar.
Abre en la costa, el faro,
su abanico solar.
A quién busca en la noche
que gira sin cesar?
Si en el pecho me busca
el corazón mortal.
Mire la roca negra
donde clavado está.
Un cuervo pica siempre,
pero no sangra ya.
Lighthouse at night
by Alfonsina Storni (Argentinian, 1892 – 1938)
The sky is a black sphere
and the sea a black disc.
Open on the coast, lighthouse,
your solar fan.
Who are you looking for in the night
that turns endlesssly?
If in your breast you’re looking for me
the mortal heart.
Look at the black rock
where it is nailed.
A raven always stings,
but it bleeds no more.
(translation by BU)