Godrevy Lighthouse in Cornwall in a Poem by Jennifer Edgecombe

Godrevy Lighthouse was built in 1859 on Godrevy Island in St Ives Bay, Cornwall, in England. Standing exposed to the Atlantic Ocean approximately three hundred metres off Godrevy Head, it marks the Stones reef, which has been a hazard to shipping for centuries. It is said to be the view of the Godrevy Lighthouse that inspired Virginia Woolf to write her book “To the Lighthouse”. It has also inspired poet Jennifer Edgecombe, who grew up at Godrevy beach, to write a poem about it, “Godrevy Lighthouse”:

I try to line up his painting
with the contours of the cliff

but a face changes over time –
rocks sliding down into the middle of the beach,

receding marram grass,
the edge unstable.

At least the lifeguard hut,
no longer in use but standing.

His route is now a memory –
the only other thing of his I own.

Newly marked: a desire line,
leading to the light.

Jennifer Edgecombe “Godrevy Lighthouse” in The Grief of the Sea” 2020
“The Grief of the Sea” by Jennifer Edgecombe. Photo by Beach Books.

The poem appears in Jennifer Edgecombe’s debut pamphlet “The Grief of the Sea”, a sad and beautiful book about the sea and her brother she lost near the sea. It is an exploration of loss and its relationship with the ocean. Lifeboats, wildflowers, tides, shingle-stones and memories are tattooed on the pages with a gentle depth, not to be forgotten.

The poem “Godrevy Lighthouse” is about a painting her grandfather John Edgecombe painted in 1993. “Godrevy – my local beach growing up – has changed,” Jennifer tells me. “The spot where I used to sit in the dunes has disappeared and it is only a matter of time until the top field, used as a car park, will be inaccessible to vehicles. The wooden steps that originally led down to the sand have been claimed by the tide – the middle rungs now hang in mid-air.

My poem “Godrevy Lighthouse” is based on my grandfather’s painting of this beach and my attempt to line up his depiction – using a photo of it on my phone – with the current view. But the landscape is constantly changing, becoming inaccessible like the past.”

Painting “Godrevy Light” by Jennifer’s granddad John Edgecombe, 1993.

“Unknown to me until recently, this spot is also the site of the St Ives Lifeboat Disaster in 1939. The eight-man crew were aboard the lifeboat John and Sarah Eliza Stych. The sea was so ferocious that the lifeboat was flung off-course, capsizing several times, until it was eventually wrecked on the rocks by the lighthouse. The sole survivor, Will Freeman, managed to climb the cliff edge to safety.

The RNLI hut in my grandfather’s painting is now disused and a new lookout has been built, further up the coast, at Gwithian.”

You can borrow the pamphlet of poems “The Grief of the Sea” by Jennifer Edgecombe together with “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf, if you want, or Charlie Connelly’s “The Channel”, where he explores so many coastal stories.

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