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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - The Jewish Cemetery at Newport

How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves,
Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
Silent beside the never-silent waves,
At rest in all this moving up and down!

The trees are white with dust, that o'er their sleep
Wave their broad curtains in the southwind's breath,
While underneath these leafy tents they keep
The long, mysterious Exodus of Death.

And these sepulchral stones, so old and brown,
That pave with level flags their burial-place,
Seem like the tablets of the Law, thrown down
And broken by Moses at the mountain's base.

The very names recorded here are strange,
Of foreign accent, and of different climes;
Alvares and Rivera interchange
With Abraham and Jacob of old times.

"Blessed be God! for he created Death!"
The mourner said, "and Death is rest and peace!"
Then added, in the certainty of faith,
"And giveth Life that nevermore shall cease."

Closed are the portals of their Synagogue,
No Psalms of David now the silence break,
No Rabbi reads the ancient Decalogue
In the grand dialect the Prophets spake.

Gone are the living, but the dead remain,
And not neglected; for a hand unseen,
Scattering its bounty, like a summer rain,
Still keeps their graves and their remembrance green.

How came they here? What burst of Christian hate,
What persecution, merciless and blind,
Drove o'er the sea -that desert desolate - 
These Ishmaels and Hagars of mankind?

They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,
Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;
Taught in the school of patience to endure
The life of anguish and the death of fire.

All their lives long, with the unleavened bread
And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,
The wasting famine of the heart they fed,
And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.

Anathema maranatha! was the cry
That rang from town to town, from street to street:
At every gate the accursed Mordecai
Was mocked and jeered, and spurned by Christian feet.

Pride and humiliation hand in hand
Walked with them through the world where'er they went;
Trampled and beaten were they as the sand,
And yet unshaken as the continent.

For in the background figures vague and vast
Of patriarchs and of prophets rose sublime,
And all the great traditions of the Past
They saw reflected in the coming time.

And thus forever with reverted look
The mystic volume of the world they read,
Spelling it backward, like a Hebrew book,
Till life became a Legend of the Dead.

But ah! what once has been shall be no more!
The groaning earth in travail and in pain
Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
And the dead nations never rise again. 

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Added: Jun 9 2005 | Viewed: 432 times | Comments and analysis of The Jewish Cemetery at Newport by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Comments (2)

The Jewish Cemetery at Newport - Comments and Information

Poet: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Poem: The Jewish Cemetery at Newport
Volume: Birds Of Passage

Comment 2 of 2, added on June 28th, 2009 at 5:26 PM.

Bob Cly in one inspired stanza rewrote the ending of Longfellow's poem that could serve as a tikkun (correction, repair) to Longfellow's statement that "dead nations never rise again." Emma Lazarus (1849-1887, "The New Colosssus") was also disturbed by Longfellow's pessimistic outlook on Jewish nationhood and penned the poem "In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport," published 1871, as a response to Longfellow. Lazarus became a spokeswoman for ideas that could be termed Zionistic around fifteen years before Herzl wrote "The Jewish State" in 1896. In 1882 Lazarus dedicated a play to George Eliot ("Daniel Deronda"), who had inspired Lazarus to propound her ideal of a new Jewish nation.

Fred Davidow from United States
Comment 1 of 2, added on September 24th, 2005 at 6:02 AM.

But ah! what once has been shall be again!
A groaning faith, in travail and in pain
Brings forth a nation, God's promise to restore,
And the new nation has risen again.

Bob Cly from United States

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