The Jewish Cemetery at Newport by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"The Jewish Cemetery at Newport" poem is about how the Jewish community has fallin out of favor. It asks the question as to why and what can be done to improve it. However, in the end, he sees that there is no hope and calls the "nation" as dead.
During this time, and really up until after WWII, the Jewish community was beaten down and hated. Even today there is still some anti-Jewish sentiment.
"The Jewish Cemetery at Newport" contains fifteen stanzas with four lines each for a total of 74 lines. Each stanza contains the rhyme scheme ABAB. The poem is written in iambic pentameter.
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. Published in Birds Of Passage in 1845.
Next: My Lost Youth