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Old 07-11-2001, 08:13 PM
ChrisW ChrisW is offline
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 1,651

The Jewish Cemetery at Newport

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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 mourners 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 backwards 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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Old 07-12-2001, 03:22 PM
robert mezey robert mezey is offline
Master of Memory
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Claremont CA USA
Posts: 573

Thanks, ChrisW, for posting this moving poem,
one of Longfellow's best. It takes a few lines
to get going, but from the Exodus of Death on,
most of it is terrific. I hope the new Library
of America volume helps to "rehabilitate" him
in the poetry world and the academy (although
it's the latter that need the rehabilitating). At
his best, in poems like The Rope-Walk, The
, The Arsenal at Springfield, The
Fire of Drift-Wood
, A Nameless Grave,
Eliot's Oak, The Cross of Snow etc. and
the translations,especially of Dante and of
Manrique's Coplas, he is one of our very
best poets.

Now, if only the Library of America would bring E. A.
Robinson's COLLECTED POEMS back into print.

[This message has been edited by robert mezey (edited July 12, 2001).]
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Old 07-12-2001, 03:36 PM
Len Krisak Len Krisak is offline
Join Date: Aug 2000
Posts: 539

I'm with Mr. Mezey on this one. It amazes
me how often the general reader and the academy
hear "Longfellow" and immediately break into
a sneering recitation of "Hiawatha." Longfellow
is filled with such gems as this--quiet and
contemplative pieces with terrifically compressed
and witty metaphors transforming before our very eyes.

Just look what he does here with the book and alphabet
and Exodus of death and reading backwards and ...well,
why go on?

A terribly neglected poet.

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Old 07-12-2001, 07:58 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
Lariat Emeritus
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,831

What Bob and Len said. Many, many thanks, Chris, for posting this imposing poem.
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Old 07-12-2001, 10:14 PM
Julie Julie is offline
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Los Angeles
Posts: 893

I'd never read this. I had some doubts as it began, but was eventually quite impressed.

Thanks for awakening me to Longfellow. I was one of the fools sneering.

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