The Two Faces of St Agnes

St Agnes is one of the smallest of the five inhabited islands in the Scilly archipelago.  At its widest point it measures less than one mile and has a population of 72.

It has just one, single track road that climbs up from the quay and loops round the lighthouse at the island’s highest point before dipping down to the sea and then rejoining itself, rather in the manner of a letter P.  There are very few motorized vehicles  –  almost all of which are tractors or electric buggies.  The pace of life is dictated by the tides and the boat timetable  –  boats being the only form of transport to other islands except in cases of emergency.  There is one pub and one shop.

The silence is golden  –  punctuated more often by bird calls than by people.  The air is pure  –  direct from the Atlantic  –  the nights are starry. The landscape is natural and unspoiled.  And so one could go on  …..

But there is another face to St Agnes.  This island paradise is surrounded by treacherous seas and rocks that have claimed thousands of lives over the centuries.  Just beyond the pool pictured above is the Island’s playing field beneath which are buried many of the men who died with Sir Cloudesley Shovell in the great naval disaster of 1707.  Frequently in past centuries men from the Island have selflessly rowed out in their six oared gig to ships in danger and have navigated a safe passage.  The churchyard bears testimony to the perils of the sea.

In the bottom photo Bishop Rock lighthouse can be seen on the horizon, just beyond the Western Rocks (the graveyard of many vessels).

Two faced Saint.

(St Agnes Isle).

A calm sea now, a gentle isle and fair.
Named Agnes, Lamb of God, saintly, pure.
Smooth are the sunlit backs of docile cows.
Heady, the tang of moorland ling and salt sea weed.

Beyond the cricket pitch, a preening gull
Presides over newly towered church and quiet bay,
Basking in virgin air, loving the light,
Lulled by an unctuous, silky sea.

One face holy, exhaling quiet;
The other secret, inhaling death where
Sedge gives way to slimy, salt-edged pools
Shadowed by wind tortured stones.

There lie bleached skulls, jetsam
Of a violent sea.
Close by the Western rocks glint greedily
Like dragons’ teeth ringing Bishop Rock.

Those steel needles will gnash, slash and maul
When the sun’s fire damps down;
Will rend bowsprit, shrouds, and men
Lured by that treacherous siren maid.

Margaret Gill

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5 Comments

Filed under Colour, Nature, Poem, Sea, Shore, Texture, Uncategorized

5 responses to “The Two Faces of St Agnes

  1. The pairing of the poem and images take me to the top of the lighthouse to witness it all.

  2. I’m sure you would love it! This tiny island is the last inhabited spot of the British Isles before crossing the Atlantic. It is idyllic and belongs to a past age. Even so, evidence of the ravages of the sea are always at hand. We holidayed there every year for almost 20 years – hence the pictures and the poem. The island was also the setting for my wife’s children’s novel,’Narwhal’.

  3. Pingback: Scilly Rocks | Louis' Page

  4. I love these islands, landscapes and this poem – thanks

    • The Islands are quite magical, relaxing and inspirational. Thank you for your comment. I’m pleased you also enjoyed the poem. The poet is my wife.

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