Flannan Isle

"Flannan Isle" is a famous English poem by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, first published in 1912. It refers to a mysterious incident that occurred on the Flannan Isles in 1900, when three lighthouse-keepers disappeared without explanation.

In popular culture

The poem "Flannan Isle" is quoted by Tom Baker as the Doctor at the end of the "Doctor Who" story "Horror of Fang Rock", which was set on a lighthouse and involved an alien explanation for the tragedy that befell the three keepers there and survivors of a shipwreck.

For the 1994 album "Chansons des mers froides" ("Songs from the Cold Seas"), French producer Hector Zazou adapted an extract of the poem "Flannan Isle" as a song entitled "The Lighthouse". Lead vocals were performed by Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and backing vocals were provided by a female Nanai shaman.

The Genesis song "The Mystery of Flannan Isle Lighthouse" (on "Archive 1967-75") is based on the incident.

Likewise the opera "The Lighthouse" by Peter Maxwell Davies.

The novel "Some Strange Scent of Death" by Angela J Elliott takes its name from a line in the poem and tells the true story of the disappearance of the lighthouse keepers.

The main story of the video game contains characters and locations related to the incident.

The Poem

"Flannan Isle" by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (1878-1962)

:Though three men dwell on Flannan Isle:To keep the lamp alight,:As we steered 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 ail: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 neared the lonely Isle;:And looked 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 ghostly in the cold sunlight:It seemed, 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 bolt-upright:Upon a half-tide reef::But, as we neared, they plunged from sight,:Without a sound, or spurt of white.

:And still to mazed to speak,:We landed; and made fast the boat;:And climbed 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 seemed 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-blistered lighthouse-door,:That gaped for us ajar.

:As, on the threshold, for a spell,:We paused, we seemed to breathe the smell:Of limewash and of tar,:Familiar as our daily breath,:As though 't were 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 passed,: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 untouched; 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 at the table-head a chair:Lay tumbled on the floor.

:We listened; 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 ransacked 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 frightened 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 untouched meal,:And an overtoppled chair.

:And, as we listened in the gloom:Of that forsaken living-room—:A 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 listened, flinching there::And looked, and looked, on the untouched meal,:And the overtoppled chair.

:We seemed to stand for an endless while,:Though still no word was said,:Three men alive on Flannan Isle,:Who thought, on three men dead.


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