The Jewish Cemetery at Newport

Original Text: 
The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with Bibliographical and Critical Notes, Riverside Edition (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1890), III, 33-36. PS 2250 E90 Robarts Library.
2    Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
3Silent beside the never-silent waves,
4    At rest in all this moving up and down!
5The trees are white with dust, that o'er their sleep
6    Wave their broad curtains in the south-wind's breath,
7While underneath these leafy tents they keep
9And these sepulchral stones, so old and brown,
10    That pave with level flags their burial-place,
11Seem like the tablets of the Law, thrown down
13The very names recorded here are strange,
14    Of foreign accent, and of different climes;
17"Blessed be God! for he created Death!"
18    The mourners said, "and Death is rest and peace;"
19Then added, in the certainty of faith,
20    "And giveth Life that nevermore shall cease."
22    No Psalms of David now the silence break,
24    In the grand dialect the Prophets spake.
25Gone are the living, but the dead remain,
26    And not neglected; for a hand unseen,
27Scattering its bounty, like a summer rain,
28    Still keeps their graves and their remembrance green.
29How came they here? What burst of Christian hate,
30    What persecution, merciless and blind,
31Drove o'er the sea -- that desert desolate --
33They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,
35Taught in the school of patience to endure
36    The life of anguish and the death of fire.
38    And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,
39The wasting famine of the heart they fed,
42    That rang from town to town, from street to street;
44    Was mocked and jeered, and spurned by Christian feet.
45Pride and humiliation hand in hand
46    Walked with them through the world where'er they went;
47Trampled and beaten were they as the sand,
48    And yet unshaken as the continent.
49For in the background figures vague and vast
50    Of patriarchs and of prophets rose sublime,
51And all the great traditions of the Past
52    They saw reflected in the coming time.
53And thus forever with reverted look
54    The mystic volume of the world they read,
55Spelling it backward, like a Hebrew book,
56    Till life became a Legend of the Dead.
57But ah! what once has been shall be no more!
58    The groaning earth in travail and in pain
59Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
60    And the dead nations never rise again.


1] "July 9, 1852. [Newport, R. I.] Went this morning into the Jewish burying-ground, with a polite old gentleman who keeps the key. There are few graves; nearly all are low tombstones of marble, with Hebrew inscriptions, and a few words added in English or Portuguese. At the foot of each, the letters S. A. G. D. G. [Su Alma Goce Divina Gloria. May his soul enjoy divine glory.] It is a shady nook, at the corner of two dusty, frequented streets, with an iron fence and a granite gateway, erected at the expense of Mr. Touro, of New Orleans." [Editor, pp. 33-34.] Back to Line
8] Exodus: Biblical book describing the departure of the Israelites out of Egypt into the desert in search of the promised land. Back to Line
12] Cf. Exodus 32.19. Back to Line
15] Portuguese and Spanish names, indicating the origin of many American jews. Back to Line
16] Abraham and Jacob: the father of the Hebrew people, and his grandson (son of Isaac) and heir of Abraham's promised blessing. Back to Line
21] Synagogue: The Touro Synagogue (83 Touro St.), the oldest one in the United States, began in 1763 Back to Line
23] Decalogue: the ten commandments. Back to Line
32] Ishmaels and Hagars: Hagar, a concubine of Abraham, was exiled with their son Ishmael into the desert on account of Sarah's jealousy at the birth of her son Isaac by Abraham. Back to Line
34] Ghetto and Judenstrass: city quarter in which Jews were forced to live; "street of the Jews." Back to Line
37] unleavened bread: bread baked without leavening (e.g.,yeast) that raises or lightens the dough (cf. the Jews' practice in their exile from Egypt in Exodus 12.39). Back to Line
40] marah: Hebrew word meaning "bitter(ness)," an allusion to the undrinkable water found by the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 15.23-26). Back to Line
41] Anathema maranatha! the highest form of excommunication among the Jews (1 Cor. 16.22), the two words meaning "given over to destruction" and "at the Lord's coming." Back to Line
43] the accursed Mordecai: persecuted by Haman with the rest of the Jewish people (see Esther 2 ff.). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Monthly Magazine
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.