by: Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

      HOUGH three men dwell on Flannan Isle
      To keep the lamp alight,
      As we steer'd under the lee, we caught
      No glimmer through the night!
      A passing ship at dawn had brought
      The news; and quickly we set sail,
      To find out what strange thing might all
      The keepers of the deep-sea light.
      The winter day broke blue and bright,
      With glancing sun and glancing spray,
      As o'er the swell our boat made way,
      As gallant as a gull in flight.
      But, as we near'd the lonely Isle;
      And look'd up at the naked height;
      And saw the lighthouse towering white,
      With blinded lantern, that all night
      Had never shot a spark
      Of comfort through the dark,
      So ghastly in the cold sunlight
      It seem'd, that we were struck the while
      With wonder all too dread for words.
      And, as into the tiny creek
      We stole beneath the hanging crag,
      We saw three queer, black, ugly birds--
      Too big, by far, in my belief,
      For guillemot or shag--
      Like seamen sitting bold upright
      Upon a half-tide reef:
      But, as we near'd, they plunged from sight,
      Without a sound, or spurt of white.
      And still too mazed to speak,
      We landed; and made fast the boat;
      And climb'd the track in single file,
      Each wishing he was safe afloat,
      On any sea, however far,
      So it be far from Flannan Isle:
      And still we seem'd to climb, and climb,
      As though we'd lost all count of time,
      And so must climb for evermore.
      Yet, all too soon, we reached the door--
      The black, sun-blister'd lighthouse door,
      That gaped for us ajar.
      As, on the threshold, for a spell,
      We paused, we seem'd to breathe the smell
      Of limewash and of tar,
      Familiar as our daily breath,
      As though 'twere some strange scent of death:
      And so, yet wondering, side by side,
      We stood a moment, still tongue-tied:
      And each with black foreboding eyed
      The door, ere we should fling it wide,
      To leave the sunlight for the gloom:
      Till, plucking courage up, at last,
      Hard on each other's heels we pass'd
      Into the living-room.
      Yet, as we crowded through the door,
      We only saw a table, spread
      For dinner, meat and cheese and bread;
      But all untouch'd; and no one there:
      As though, when they sat down to eat,
      Ere they could even taste,
      Alarm had come; and they in haste
      Had risen and left the bread and meat:
      For on the table-head a chair
      Lay tumbled on the floor.
      We listen'd; but we only heard
      The feeble cheeping of a bird
      That starved upon its perch:
      And, listening still, without a word,
      We set about our hopeless search.
      We hunted high, we hunted low,
      And soon ransack'd the empty house;
      Then o'er the Island, to and fro,
      We ranged, to listen and to look
      In every cranny, cleft or nook
      That might have hid a bird or mouse:
      But, though we searched from shore to shore,
      We found no sign in any place:
      And soon again stood face to face
      Before the gaping door:
      And stole into the room once more
      As frighten'd children steal.
      Aye: though we hunted high and low,
      And hunted everywhere,
      Of the three men's fate we found no trace
      Of any kind in any place,
      But a door ajar, and an untouch'd meal,
      And an overtoppled chair.
      And, as we listen'd in the gloom
      Of that forsaken living-room--
      O chill clutch on our breath--
      We thought how ill-chance came to all
      Who kept the Flannan Light:
      And how the rock had been the death
      Of many a likely lad:
      How six had come to a sudden end
      And three had gone stark mad:
      And one whom we'd all known as friend
      Had leapt from the lantern one still night,
      And fallen dead by the lighthouse wall:
      And long we thought
      On the three we sought,
      And of what might yet befall.
      Like curs a glance has brought to heel,
      We listen'd, flinching there:
      And look'd, and look'd, on the untouch'd meal
      And the overtoppled chair.
      We seem'd to stand for an endless while,
      Though still no word was said,
      Three men alive on Flannan Isle,
      Who thought on three men dead.

'Flannan Isle' is reprinted from An Anthology of Modern Verse. Ed. A. Methuen. London: Methuen & Co., 1921.




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