Quotes about Lighthouses

And now in far quarters of the horizon
lighthouses are awake, sending messages—
invitations to the landlocked,
warnings to the experienced,
but to anyone returning from the planet ocean,
candles in the windows of a safe earth.
~Anne Stevenson, “North Sea off Carnoustie,” Enough of Green, 1977

When winds and waves a mutual contest wage,
These foaming anger, those impelling rage;
Thy blissful light can cheer the dismal gloom,
And foster hopes beyond a wat’ry doom.
~John William Smith, “The Lighthouse,” Terrors of Imagination, and Other Poems, 1814

William, we have a light upon our house, and it gives hope to all who sail upon the stormy seas. Do ya know what it means to have a light burning atop your home? It is safety, a place of refuge, seen by all as a signal that ye stand for something greater than this world, greater than us all. ~James Michael Pratt, The Lighthouse Keeper, 2000

I searched for lighthouses everywhere we went. I loved the unique structures, all alone on the water. The way the beams lit up with a simple, rhythmic flash or an arc of light that swept across the water like a pair of arms. ~Cynthia Ellingsen, The Lighthouse Keeper, 2017

The meagre lighthouse all in white, haunting the seaboard, as if it were the ghost of an edifice that had once had colour and rotundity, dripped melancholy tears after its late buffeting by the waves. ~Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, 1855

One moment I gaz’d from the hill’s gentle slope,
All hush’d was the billows’ commotion,
And tho’t that the Light-house look’d lovely as Hope,
That star of life’s tremulous ocean.
~Thomas Moore, “The Light House,” c. 1811

Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining. ~Anne Lamott, “The Last Class,” Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, 1994

At the foot of the lighthouse it is dark. ~Japanese proverb, quoted in J. Long, Eastern Proverbs and Emblems Illustrating Old Truths, 1881

And as the evening darkens, lo! how bright,
Through the deep purple of the twilight air,
Beams forth the sudden radiance of its light
With strange, unearthly splendour in its glare!
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Lighthouse,” The Seaside and the Fireside, 1850

Inside my empty bottle
I was constructing a lighthouse
While all the others
Were making ships.
~Charles Simic, “Solving the Riddle,” Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk, 1974

Inside my wine bottle
I was constructing a lighthouse
While all the others
Were making sailing ships.
~Charles Simic, “Solving the Riddle,” Selected Poems, 1963–1983: Revised and Expanded, 1990  [revision of his 1974 poem —tg]

Build high the lighthouse, Architect,
In beauty, strength, and might…
Day and night its lamp of light
Shall cast its cheerful glow,
And on the wrecking rocks its flame,
Like a burning rose, shall blow…
~Richard Sheldon Chadwick, “Building the Lighthouse,” c. 1856

It shines like your very own star. Every time you see it, you won’t have to be afraid. You’ll know that you’re not alone. ~Cynthia Ellingsen, The Lighthouse Keeper, 2017

She is like a revolving light-house — pitch darkness alternating with a dazzling brilliancy. ~Henry James, “Washington Square,” 1880  [Doctor Sloper —tg]

Presently a light breeze sprang up, rolling the fog before it, and then dying away, leaving the lighthouse enshrouded… The two great fog-bells of the lighthouse were therefore set agoing, and they rang out their slow deep-toned peal all that day and all that night… ~R. M. Ballantyne, The Lighthouse: Being the Story of a Great Fight Between Man and the Sea, 1865

Beam of light,
      Fair and bright,
      Piercing through the veil of night,
Guide the ships!
      As each dips
      In the mouth and o’er the lips,
Of the wave,
      Where the brave
      Seaman oft has found a grave.
~M. S. L., “The Lighthouse,” The Story of My Love, and Other Poems, 1874

I learnt to love the Lighthouse…
I found it a companion
      On many a wintry night,
      When from our little harbour
      I watch’d the friendly light.
It seem’d, when lives around me
      Were fraught with changes ever,
      A glad thing to behold one light
      False or inconstant never.
~Rowland Brown, “The Lighthouse,” Songs of Early Spring, with Lays of Later Life, 1872

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on for evermore that quenchless flame,
Shines on that inextinguishable light!
It sees the ocean to its bosom clasp
The rocks and sea-sand with the kiss of peace…
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Lighthouse,” The Seaside and the Fireside, 1850

There is a lighthouse — no matter where. It was built — no matter when. It stands on a wild and rocky coast, and has been shaken by many a storm. It bears a red light, revolving at intervals of thirty-five seconds. Many a despairing heart has been cheered, and many a home-sick soul made joyous, as the little red speck appeared in the horizon, and told it that home was near, and the dangers of the voyage almost over. The crew of the great warship rejoiced as she passed within hail of the tower, labouring under her heavy canvas, and making a foaming way through the calm and mighty waters. They felt that now indeed their burning watch in the tropical regions was over; that, for a time, at least, they might rest in their homes, and revel in the delights of Old England; and fathers, brothers, sons, greeting with eager eyes the first dawn of morning, which should prove to them the red light had spoken truly. ~Elizabeth Harcourt Mitchell, The Lighthouse: A Novel, 1860

The rocky ledge runs far into the sea,
And on its outer point, some miles away,
The Lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,
A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Lighthouse,” The Seaside and the Fireside, 1850

There are times when the ocean is not the ocean — not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only the gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most. ~M. L. Stedman, The Light Between Oceans, 2012

      “Lighthouses are not just stone, brick, metal, and glass. There’s a human story at every lighthouse; that’s the story I want to tell.” This is a quote I gave to someone; I don’t recall who and when. I may have said it in a speech when one of the U.S. Postal Service series of lighthouse stamps debuted. Or, it may have been given during an interview by a newspaper. Its origin hardly matters… but somehow it got published and gained traction…
      I’m flattered, of course, but more than that I’m hopeful people will type the quote or my name into a browser and find the real stories, the authentic history of lighthouses. That is, after all, my primary goal — telling the history and lore in the hopes people will gain a love for lighthouses and will want to work to save them. The stories broadcast in the beams of lighthouses are what are important. ~Elinor DeWire, “A Quote and a Bucket of Paint,” Elinor DeWire’s Author Blog: Lighthouses, Fascinations, and the Writing Life, 2016

He seemed to live only for his lantern. He was generally known amongst the fishermen and others as “John of the Lighthouse,” and was nicknamed by them, “Jack-o’-Lantern.” There he lived, silently, watchfully, his eyes ever fixed on the vessels going or returning; isolated from his fellow-beings; above life, and yet below it; above its affections, its hopes, its fears, its sympathies, and yet only half alive; dead to the world, and yet a world to himself; a fiery human soul in the midst of a waste of waters. ~Elizabeth Harcourt Mitchell, The Lighthouse: A Novel, 1860  [a little altered —tg]

Guide-star of hope, whose bright translucent ray
Directs the sailor on the devious way;
Warns him of craggy rocks, of quicksands drear,
And forms a light his fragile bark to steer.
~John William Smith, “The Lighthouse,” Terrors of Imagination, and Other Poems, 1814

Lighthouses are more helpful than churches. ~Attributed to Benjamin Franklin in George Seldes, The Great Quotations, 1993

To a friend or foe, ’tis all the same,
The lighthouse sheds her flickering flame;
And by her aid on a stormy sea
The coursers of the deep ride free,
Safe from the rocks and sands which sleep
Out of sight in the treacherous deep;
She guides them safe to Albion’s shore,
When the perils of the voyage are o’er.
      Then hurrah, &c.
~William Thomas Birch, “The Lighthouse,” Home Reveries, 1871

Once the lighthouse is seen, the rest of the sea is ignored. ~Terri Guillemets, “For good or for bad,” 2005

Every man should take heed… to the way in which he treats his conscience… When we put a lighthouse on the coast, that in the night mariners may explore the dark and terrible way of the sea, we not only swing glass around about it to protect it, but we enclose that glass itself in a network of iron wire, that birds may not dash it in, that summer winds may not sweep it out, and that swarms of insects may not destroy themselves and the light. For if the light in the lighthouse be put out, how great a darkness falls upon the land and upon the sea! And the mariner, waiting for the light, or seeing it not, miscalculates, and perishes. Now, a man’s conscience ought to be protected from those influences that would diminish its light, or that would put it out… ~Henry Ward Beecher, “The Unpardonable Sin” (sermon), c. 1864

So Virtue shines in tribulation’s night,
And wide illumes the prospect with her light;
Firm on a rock she guides us thro’ the storm,
When ruffling tempests every hope deform…
~John William Smith, “The Lighthouse,” Terrors of Imagination, and Other Poems, 1814

We are apt to look upon the lighthouse as completely a modern invention, but a little reflection would convince us that the early navigators, in their arduous struggle against the ocean, could not have failed to establish some sure indications by which to guide their adventurous course. Undoubtedly, the first rude signal would be no more than a huge fire blazing on the wave-washed promontory, or on the summit of hoary hill or grassy mound nearest to the more dangerous parts of the shore. But it can easily be conceived that the difficulty of keeping these fires kindled on stormy nights would soon suggest to man’s ingenuity the idea of erecting a suitable structure for their shelter. ~W. H. Davenport Adams, “Ancient History of Lighthouses: The Fire-Towers of the Mediterranean,” Lighthouses and Lightships, 1870

“There was a feeling of joy, gratitude, and wonder,” says a writer, “when Smeaton’s friends with difficulty descried the form of his lighthouse through the still dark and troubled air. It was uninjured, even to a pane of glass in the lantern.” And there it has ever since remained, despite the storms of a century and more. Long may it and its lonely brethren keep our shores from being strewn with wreck of ships and the lifeless bodies of them whose business is in the great waters! ~G. S. O., “The Lighthouse,” in The American Chatterbox, 1882

Its light seemed brighter to twinkle,
      As if from passing ships
      It heard the benedictions
      Fall from the sailors’ lips.
And it seem’d to tell me the secret
      That gave it power to win
      The trust of the anxious seamen—
      Its light shone from within.
~Rowland Brown, “The Lighthouse,” Songs of Early Spring, with Lays of Later Life, 1872

The light was maintained 365 days a year in all manner of weather… Men missed their wives and children on holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries, giving total allegiance to the light. In many respects, the Coast Guard era was no different than the days of the old “wickies,” the nickname given to lightkeepers prior to electrification when oil lamps illuminated the beacon and wicks had to be trimmed. ~Elinor DeWire, Lighthouses of the Mid-Atlantic Coast, 2002

Loud howls the wind, and the sea runs high,
Bearing the burden of many a cry
For help to land, while the vessel runs,
Firing at random her signal guns.
Black is the night as a sable pall;
The thunder answers the sailor’s call;
And all seems lost till the friendly light
Of the lighthouse bursts on the wearied sight.
      Then hurrah for the lighthouse, hurrah!
      Her light shall shine o’er the billows afar,
      Wherever gloom and doubt prevail,
      To guard the storm-tossed shattered sail.
~William Thomas Birch, “The Lighthouse,” Home Reveries, 1871

Man is a unit. His capacities are very much greater than simply the sum of those of the body alone, plus those of the mind alone, plus those of the soul by itself. Man might be called the product of the three, rather than their sum. What would man amount to without a soul, or, rather, what would a body and mind be, for it would not be man, without a soul? What would a light-house be without a light? And even if a perfect light were in a light-house, but if the foundations were weak, the glasses dirty, the machinery that revolved around the light out of order, or the light-house so low that the light could be seen only a little way, how much these mechanical defects would detract from what might have been accomplished! ~Luther Gulick, M.D., “Our New Gymnastics,” read before the 28th International Convention of Young Men’s Christian Associations, Philadelphia, May 1889  [a little altered —tg]

Life has its Lighthouse, in each fleeting stage,
In youth, in manhood, and in hoary age…
In age illum’d with philosophic flame,
From Reason’s Lighthouse still we steer the same;
Calm and serene our vessels onward glide,
And share the comforts of a middle tide;
Till, the last squall by fate’s own edict blown,
Death wrecks our vessels on a coast unknown.
~John William Smith, “The Lighthouse,” Terrors of Imagination, and Other Poems, 1814

Books, — lighthouses erected in the great sea of time… ~Edwin P. Whipple, “Authors in their Relations to Life,” lecture delivered before the Literary Societies of Brown University, 1846 September 1st

She’d dreamed the universe
was a lighthouse to navigate
life’s rocky shores to joy.
~Terri Guillemets, 2019, blackout poetry created from Elizabeth Bass, You Again, 2014, page 3

National Lighthouse Day… will provide some long overdue recognition for the important role which lighthouses played in the history of our country, and the values of safety, heroism, and American ingenuity which they represent… As America continues its technological progress into the 21st century, it becomes easy to forget the wholesomeness and serenity of preindustrial establishments such as lighthouses. The history they provide gives us the opportunity to step back in time and learn more about our country. The contributions they made to our society, from protecting our coasts to guiding our sailors, should continue to be appreciated and remembered. ~William J. Hughes, remarks in the United States House of Representatives, 1989 July 26th  [National Lighthouse Day was established in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the commissioning of the first U. S. federal lighthouse. It is celebrated annually on August 7th. —tg]

Lighthouse Quotations
Original post date: 2014 Jul 15
1st major revision: 2016 Jan 14
2nd major revision: 2019 Nov 14