Poems, now first collected/Castle Island Light
CASTLE ISLAND LIGHT
Between the outer Keys,
Where the drear Bahamas be,
Through a crooked pass the vessels sail
To reach the Carib Sea.
'T is the Windward Passage, long and dread,
From bleak San Salvador;
(Three thousand miles the wave must roll
Ere it wash the Afric shore).
Here are the coral reefs
That hold their booty fast;
The sea-fan blooms in groves beneath,
And sharks go lolling past.
Hither and yon the sand-bars lie
Where the prickly bush has grown,
And where the rude sponge-fisher dwells
In his wattled hut, alone.
Southward, amid the strait,
Is the Castle Island Light;
Of all that bound the ocean round
It has the loneliest site.
'Twixt earth and heaven the waves are driven
Sorely upon its flank;
The light streams out for sea-leagues seven
To the Great Bahama Bank.
A girded tower, a furlong scant
Of whitened sand and rock,
And one sole being the waters seeing,
Where the gull and gannet flock.
He is the warder of the pass
That mariners must find;
His beard drifts down like the ashen moss
Which hangs in the southern wind.
The old man hoar stands on the shore
And bodes the withering gale,
Or wonders whence from the distant world
Will come the next dim sail.
From the Northern Main, from England,
From France, the craft go by;
Yet sometimes one will stay her course
That must his wants supply.
In a Christmas storm the "Claribel" struck
At night, on the Pelican Shoal,
But the keeper's wife heard not the guns
And the bell's imploring toll.
She died ere the gale went down,
Wept by her daughters three—
Sun-flecked, yet fair, with their English hair,
Nymphs of the wind and sea.
With sail and oar some island shore
At will their skiffs might gain,
But they never had known the kiss of man,
Nor had looked on the peopled main,
Nor heard of the old man Atlas,
Who holds the unknown seas,
And the golden fruit that is guarded well
By the young Hesperides.
Who steers by Castle Island Light
May hear the seamen tell
How one, the mate, alone was saved
From the wreck of the "Claribel;"
And how for months he tarried
With the keeper on the isle,
And for each of the blue-eyed daughters
Had ever a word or a smile.
Between the two that loved him
He lightly made his choice,
And betimes a chance ship took them off
From the father's sight and voice.
The second her trouble could not bear,—
So wild her thoughts had grown
That she fled with a lurking smuggler's crew,
But whither was never known.
Then the keeper aged like Lear,
Left with one faithful child;
But 't was ill to see a maid so young
Who never sang or smiled.
'T is sad to bide with an old, old man,
And between the wave and sky
To watch all day the sea-fowl play,
While lone ships hasten by.
There came, anon, the white full moon
That rules the middle year,
Before whose sheen the lesser stars
Grow pale and disappear.
It glistened down on a lighthouse tower,
A beach on either hand,
And the features wan of a gray old man
Digging a grave in the sand.