Wheel me down to the shore
where the lighthouse was abandoned
and the moon tolls in the rafters.
Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.
I was never able to pray,
but let me inscribe my name
in the book of waves
and then stare into the dome
of a sky that never ends
and see my voice sail into the night.
Hirsch's poem is filled with beautiful and haunting images of mortality set against timeless, infinite scenes. It addresses our mortality and ephemeral nature while still suggesting that we are part of a much larger, less temporary existence.
I imagine the poem as narrated by an old man, someone bound to a wheelchair ("wheel me down..."). In their confinement, presumably at death's door, they seek out places where the temporary world of Man and the eternal meet. The first such image in the first stanza is an abandoned lighthouse, where the moon "tolls" like a bell through its rafters. A man-made building, left alone, becomes home to the eternal moon, where it rings for us as a bell, brighter and above our mortal lives.
In the second stanza, the stars are, to the narrator, like the "forgotten faces of the dead." It's a strange image to me, because the stars are certainly never forgotten, but they are so many in number that I can imagine them being hard to remember. I think what Hirsch means is that the dead become part of our existence, even if we do not know them anymore. The stars can be like a gallery of all the energy that has ever been and ever will be. The "wind paging through the trees" is the very essence of temporary existence, but it's a scene that we can imagine having happened two thousand years ago and happening again in two thousand years. It's the strange intersection of flowing, active time and immortal imagery.
"I was never able to pray" sounds like a somewhat sad statement, made by a dying person, but, and "but" is key, the narrator feels that he or she is still part of something larger than themselves, even if they do not feel an explicit connection to the Divine. They see a clear spiritual value in the persistent images of nature. Like so many others, they feel enchanted by the sea.
In the fourth stanza, the narrator looks up at "the dome of a sky that never ends" and desires to set themselves, or more specifically, their voice, into the night, to see it "sail" away. In that sense, a poem is like a message in a bottle, set adrift through time. You never know who it may encounter or when. In many ways, I think we all wish to add our voice or face in some way to the world, to feel ourselves part of some whole. Even if you were never able to pray, some awareness of the cosmic whole seems universal.