The Dream of Abbie Burgess


by Mark Anthony Signorelli (August 2010)

Is that the noise of the agonized sea,
 That roars at my window-pane?
Is that the bawl of the northeast gale
 That bears the wreck and the rain?
And is that the boom of the iron coast
 Fronting the wild white crest
That even in this, my final bed,
 Permits me little rest?
Just such a storm comes back to me
 On the tide of memory
As ambushed Matinicus Rock
 Where she sits in the gleaming sea.
To Rockland father had sailed away,
 And mother and sister and I
Alone in the tower endured the wrath
 That blew about the sky.
The waves in their fury breached the walls
 And across the island rolled
Till not one stone on another stood
 Save for our ancient hold.
But with the ships in the unfed deep
 Was all my thought and care,
For not a man aboard but lived
 In our lamp’s abiding glare.
Cloud-ward on the waves they surged,
 And my heart rose with the crew;
Down into the trough they plunged
 And all my heart fell too!
So desperately, in dusk and dark,
 I tended to the light
Lest even the poorest cabin boy
 Should perish in the night;
Lest even the smallest schooner boat
 Should tumble in the gale
I labored at my heavy task
 In terror I should fail.
Once when the ocean skirt the coop
 I ran into the storm
And bore the frantic chickens back
 In a basket on my arm.
Oh how I longed to gather in
 Each man upon the sea
And bear him in my arms away
 From its cold ferocity;
To bear him in my arms away
 From the agitated swell
And place him on the solid coast
 Where all things would be well.
Last night I dreamed of the weathered tower
 And in my dream it stood
Lonely amid the mounting tide
 In dark decrepitude.
The clouds that augur storm and rain
 Had mustered in the east;
The lightning whipped the champing waves,
 And the goading wind increased;
And homeward from the teeming banks
 Road many a lovely ship
And one by one each fell into
 The storm’s remorseless grip.
Just at that moment every man
 To my mind did appear
Like the sleeping face of one beloved-
 Fragile, unique, and dear;
Or like the weeping of a child
 By thunder peals distressed,
Whom we to soothe at once enfold
 And clasp against our breast;
And all the world was like a gate
 Where ruin ever pressed,
And none but I was there to hold
 Its straining latches fast.
I hurried where the lighthouse stood,
 Just how I cannot tell,
But underneath my powerless feet
 The ocean rose and fell.

I seemed to float across the waves

 Like a ghostly charioteer,
And as I went I watched all things
 With trembling and with fear.
The night was stealing through the sky,
 The tempest barked and raved,
And I must light the mouldering lamp
 So all men could be saved.
Oh, who will keep the lighthouse flame
 When I have fallen asleep?
And who will guard the noble souls
 That travail in the deep?
And who will be the light from home
 When their boats are tossed and staved,
And all the ocean mounts with rage,
 So all men can be saved?

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