Digest>Archives> December 2004

Whitewash, OR Another Lightkeeper’s Lament

Poem By Harry A. Gray, November 24, 1935.

By Jeremy D'Entremont


This poem found its way to historian and Flying Santa, Edward Rowe Snow and then to his daughter, Dolly Snow Bicknell, who gave it to us. It’s apparently never

been published before.

Back in the 1930s, Boston plumber Harry A. Gray collected lighthouse photos and memorabilia from around the world. One of his loves was lighthouse-related poetry. Not only did he collect it; he also wrote it. Inspired by the earlier poem “Brasswork, or the Lightkeeper’s Lament” by Maine lighthouse engineer Fred Morong, Harry Gray made his own contribution to the genre with the following work, an ode to the days when keepers had to endlessly apply whitewash to many light station buildings.

Spring, spring, beautiful spring.

This is what some of our poets sing,

But they don’t have to go up in a sling

To Whitewash.

Sadly we don our overalls,

Overhaul the sling, the block and falls,

And are hoisted aloft where duty calls

To Whitewash.

We start to work in a heck’ova rush

With a bucket, a scraper and whitewash brush,

And all day long its slush, slush, slush,

With Whitewash.

The skipper below, who holds the turn,

Looks up with a smile, but he does not yearn

To come up where wind and sun sore burn,

To Whitewash.

When the tower is finished we do not stop,

But to each outhouse lamely hop,

And brush and brush till we’re fit to drop,

With Whitewash.

And every path is lined with stones

That look in the dark like bleached skull bones,

From men who have gone to Davy Jones.

They’re Whitewashed.

Then the property fence, both post and rail.

Still at work with our brush and pail,

And a single knothole we dare not fail

To Whitewash.

Then the fog signal house must have its turn,

And while arms and faces smart and burn,

We hear the call “Hash!” and gladly spurn

All Whitewash.

The Lighthouse Bureau is not too hard,

They do not expect us to whiten the yard.

E’en the rocks on the shore are not on the card

To Whitewash.

When St. Peter reads my book of life

If he blots any sins on that record of strife,

I hope he’ll use blacklead smeared thick with a knife,

Not Whitewash.

This story appeared in the December 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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