Tim Truzy is a poet, short-story author, and he is currently working on several novels.
Lighthouses in Literature and Poetry
Lighthouses are structures, usually buildings, designed to help mariners navigate dangerous areas by using lamps and powerful lenses. Lighthouses are found at busy harbors, along the coast, or on islands. They may be built in various shapes and sizes, but they serve an important function for the surrounding area. In the United States, the Coast Guard has the primary responsibility for maintaining lighthouses. Yet, around the world and in literature, lighthouses have always fascinated all of us. The lighthouse has a universal appeal with regard to symbolism for humanity.
In literature and poetry, lighthouses represent several themes. They may indicate some form of guidance is occurring in the work. They may suggest a character will somehow persevere to reach a safer station in life after enduring some tragedy. Lighthouses can symbolize a focal point of morality as well. For instance, they may demonstrate strength and resolve in the face of adversity when a character is trying to do the right thing. Perhaps, this is why some religions borrow the lighthouse as a symbol.
In this poem, I draw upon those themes to explore the life of the lighthouse keepers. Although few lighthouses today employ permanent lighthouse keepers, they were particularly crucial until electronics replaced them over the last century. Their lives, along with their families, were often lonely and separate from the rest of the community. The photos are of the Currituck Lighthouse, one of seven lighthouses along the coast of North Carolina. Please, feel free to leave comments at the end of this article. Enjoy: “The Lighthouse Keeper Laments.”
The Lighthouse Keeper Laments
Waiting and watching water wave stories,
Standing tall forever or just a day,
Fortunes rise and flail on ships set to sail,
Time harbors no meaning at the end of a ray.
Opaque along frightful coast huge shallows,
Pendulum penned by the monstrous wet sound,
Lamp radiance towing ships hugging ports,
Swinging solo steering boats from aground.
Isolation breeds individuals,
Desperation dooms societies,
Lantern illumine passage perilous,
Vaunted high tower aloof knows none of these.
I once saw a man stout on troubled deck,
Winds awake tossed ship with little mercy,
Man raised arms praying storm stop in its place,
They say this is why they will relieve me.
Sacred is the flame I protect their names,
Go be with family on mainland rest,
Bring to shore your tired feet to scurry,
Go therein and feather your own small nest.
They say automation will do better,
They say my vision is no longer straight,
Piercing light ends for all at some junction,
How many lives I’ve saved from Neptune’s Gate?
But no one wants to lick the hot fire,
Pouring fuel to turn night to saving light,
They say I’m perfect for this remote work,
Illusions in the water make sound just right.
Moon Cussers abandon their targets now,
Cliffs and rocks salute my viewing focus,
Supervisors praise iron diligence,
Keeper of the light - Keeper of purpose.
Fun Facts about Lighthouses
- According to Lighthouse Directory, a resource hosted by the University of North Carolina, there are over 18600 lighthouses on the planet. Several considerations go into constructing lighthouses. For instance, lighthouses are painted with different colors depending on the natural and manmade backgrounds. Taking the surroundings into account when painting lighthouses helps mariners with identifying where they are. Next, the curvature of the earth is also a factor because local mariners and those far out in the water need to be able to figure out their location. This is why some lighthouses are tall in height and others are short in stature. Finally, most lighthouses today are automated, using computerized technology to activate the lights and trigger the fog horn. Ships in the area are also contacted by radio.
- The oldest working lighthouse is on the northwest coast of Spain. It is called La Coruna. This particular lighthouse was built by the Romans. The first lighthouse in America was at Little Brewster Island in Boston. It was built in 1716. The light station is still maintained today. The room that is at the top of the tower where the lamp is located is called the “Lantern room.”
- The first lighthouse was the Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt. It was destroyed in an earthquake in the 14th-century, but it was built around 200 B.C. Currently, in Saudi Arabia, the tallest lighthouse exists. It is called the Jeddah Light. It stands over 400 feet tall. In the United States, Michigan has the most lighthouses with over one-hundred and fifty built throughout time. August 7th is National Lighthouse Day in America.
Books About Lighthouses
As with any literary symbol, lighthouses can have a variety of meanings associated with them throughout a story or poem. Reading the text carefully will help you better grasp what the author is communicating about the plot and the significance of the lighthouse symbol. Below I’ve provided some books about lighthouses you may wish to explore. However, there are many books and poems about these wonderful structures. Since lighthouses are global necessities, I’ve found books concerning lighthouses in different parts of the world. Engage in some research and find nonfictional and fictional ones you enjoy:
- Denton, T., & Leach, N. (2007). Lighthouses of England and Wales: A complete guide. Ashbourne: Landmark.
- Graham, D. (1993). Lights of the inside passage: A history of British Columbias lighthouses and their keepers. Madeira Park (BC): Harbour Publishing.
- Majher, P. (2011). Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Ann Arbor, MI, USA: University of Michigan Press.
- Zepke, T. (2009). Lighthouses of the Carolinas for kids. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press.
History of lighthouses – Wikipedia. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from:
Important Dates in United States Lighthouse History - Lighthouse Digest. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from:
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on December 08, 2019:
The St. Augustine Lighthouse is fabulous. We visited Florida last week and had a chance to see the lighthouse. Established in 1824 by American colonists, the site was probably first used by the Spanish going back to the 1600s. Tours are daily affairs, and the view is gorgeous. Thanks for dropping by.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on April 13, 2019:
The Cape May Lighthouse in New Jersey was first lit in 1859. It stands 1557 feet and is an automated station. But lighthouse keepers did dwell there, watching over the area from New Jersey to Delaware. The Cape May Lighthouse is shown in the last photo in this article. Thanks for reading.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on February 22, 2019:
The tallest lighthouse in the U.S. is located at Cape Hatteras, N.C. It stands 200 feet tall. But Boston Lighthouse is the only light station with a designated “keeper” as established by Congress. In some places, where it was too dangerous to build a lighthouse, light ships were used. These vessels could not leave their position regardless of weather. This made the work particularly hazardous. Although light ships have nearly vanished, with only about 20 left today, the need for guiding maritime traffic is still crucial. We can expect to see light stations of some sort for many years to come, whether or not a keeper resides there.
Thanks for reading.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on March 05, 2018:
I appreciate your feedback. My poetry is heavily influenced by Afrocentric and Native American ideas and nontraditional rhyming schemes found in works by poets like John Ashbery, a noted "surrealistic" poet. I also listen to the odd meter jazz styling of Dave Brubeck as I compose. Rhyming is less important to me than a person "experiencing" the work, but that's a personal preference.
Taking time to give me constructive feedback means a lot to me. Of course, I will consider your kind and thoughtful suggestions. After all, you are a noted poet yourself, Manatita44.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on February 01, 2018:
Ms. Dora, I am honored again because you yhave stopped by to view my work. Your comment was poetic in itself. Indeed, we have a history of bandits down on our coast, dating back to Black Beard and beyond. The lighthouses were a saving force on our coast. My wife and I try to visit as many as we can.
Thank you, again.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 01, 2018:
Lighthouses in reality and in symbols light our path. The lighthouse keeper may not get the recognition he deserves, but "sacred is the flame" and noble is the work he does. Damn the Mooncussers. Much food for thought. Thank you.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on January 29, 2018:
It was a common practice along the coast of North Carolina for bandits to signal ships to their doom, running them aground. The raiders then would take the cargo. These bands of men and some women were known as Mooncussers. The lighthouses placed along the coast ended this practice. Yet, it is believed certain areas such as Nagshead, N.C., still have names of some of these groups.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on January 29, 2018:
Lenses for the lighthouses are known as “Frannel lenses.” There sizes are determined with the word “order.” The largest lens is known as the “first order.” The order of the lenses can continue to the seventh order, which would be the smallest lens. The glass prisms which make up the lens can be in different colors to project beams of light from the lantern toward the water. By opening and closing panels, flashes are made to signal ships as to their location.
This could be a tedious and sometimes dangerous job for the lighthouse keeper, who had responsibility for keeping the flames burning. But he also had to clean the lamp, and he had to provide routine repairs for the lighthouse. In the beginning, many lamps floated in a pool of mercury because it was the heaviest “liquid metal” that would allow the lamp to work without sinking. Curituck Beach Lighthouse is categorized as a “first order” lighthouse.