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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Watch of Boon Island

By Celia Laighton Thaxter (1835–1894)

THEY crossed the lonely and lamenting sea;

Its moaning seemed but singing. “Wilt thou dare,”

He asked her, “brave the loneliness with me?”

“What loneliness,” she said, “if thou art there?”

Afar and cold on the horizon’s rim

Loomed the tall light-house, like a ghostly sign;

They sighed not as the shore behind grew dim,

A rose of joy they bore across the brine.

They gained the barren rock, and made their home

Among the wild waves and the sea-birds wild;

The wintry winds blew fierce across the foam,

But in each other’s eyes they looked and smiled.

Aloft the light-house sent its warnings wide,

Fed by their faithful hands, and ships in sight

With joy beheld it, and on land men cried,

“Look, clear and steady burns Boon Island light!”

And, while they trimmed the lamp with busy hands,

“Shine far and through the dark, sweet light,” they cried;

“Bring safely back the sailors from all lands

To waiting love,—wife, mother, sister, bride!”

No tempest shook their calm, though many a storm

Tore the vexed ocean into furious spray;

No chill could find them in their Eden warm,

And gently Time lapsed onward day by day.

Said I no chill could find them? There is one

Whose awful footfalls everywhere are known,

With echoing sobs, who chills the summer sun,

And turns the happy heart of youth to stone;

Inexorable Death, a silent guest

At every hearth, before whose footsteps flee

All joys, who rules the earth, and, without rest,

Roams the vast shuddering spaces of the sea;

Death found them; turned his face and passed her by,

But laid a finger on her lover’s lips,

And there was silence. Then the storm ran high,

And tossed and troubled sore the distant ships.

Nay, who shall speak the terrors of the night,

The speechless sorrow, the supreme despair?

Still like a ghost she trimmed the waning light,

Dragging her slow weight up the winding stair.

With more than oil the saving lamp she fed,

While lashed to madness the wild sea she heard;

She kept her awful vigil with the dead,

And God’s sweet pity still she ministered.

O sailors, hailing loud the cheerful beam,

Piercing so far the tumult of the dark,

A radiant star of hope, you could not dream

What misery there sat cherishing that spark!

Three times the night, too terrible to bear,

Descended, shrouded in the storm. At last

The sun rose clear and still on her despair,

And all her striving to the winds she cast,

And bowed her head and let the light die out,

For the wide sea lay calm as her dead love.

When evening fell, from the far land, in doubt,

Vainly to find that faithful star men strove.

Sailors and landsmen look, and women’s eyes,

For pity ready, search in vain the night,

And wondering neighbor unto neighbor cries,

“Now what, think you, can ail Boon Island light?”

Out from the coast toward her high tower they sailed;

They found her watching, silent, by her dead,

A shadowy woman, who nor wept, nor wailed,

But answered what they spoke, till all was said.

They bore the dead and living both away.

With anguish time seemed powerless to destroy

She turned, and backward gazed across the bay,—

Lost in the sad sea lay her rose of joy.