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Nahant: Poetry by the Sea


Henry Wadsworth LongfellowHENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW        (1807 – 1882) became America’s most famous and beloved poet within his lifetime.  Considered national treasures, his “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “The Song of Hiawatha” are among the best known American poems.  Longfellow lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, taught at Harvard, and summered with his family on Nahant from 1850 until his death.  Nahant on the Rocks (Nahant Historical Society 1991) by Stanley Paterson and Carl Seaburg details Longfellow’s activities on Nahant during those years and describes his relationships with other prominent Nahanters.

Among the best known poems Longfellow wrote on Nahant are “The Bells of Lynn,” written July 29, 1859, which explores the resonance of the bells as heard by Longfellow on Nahant that day, and “Four by the Clock!” written on Nahant at four in the morning on September 8, 1880.  Another Nahant poem, “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” brings alive the restorative power of the ocean’s waters.  This quality may explain why “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” was chosen to be the signature poem for The Nahant Historical Society’s permanent exhibit, “Nahant on the Rocks.” More than anyone else, by virtue of his stature and longevity, Longfellow has made poetry synonymous with Nahant.





Written at Nahant, July 29, 1859.



O curfew of the setting sun!  O Bells of Lynn!
O requiem of the dying day!  O Bells of Lynn!

From the dark belfries of yon  cloud – cathedral
Your sounds aerial seem to float, O Bells of Lynn !

Borne on the evening wind across the crimson twi-
O’er land and sea they rise and fall, O Bells of
         Lynn !

The fisherman in his boat, far out beyond the
Listens, and leisurely rows ashore, O Bells of
         Lynn !

Over the shining sands the wandering cattle home-
Follow each other at your call, O Bells of Lynn!

The distant lighthouse hears, and with his flaming
Answers you, passing the watchword on, O Bells
          of Lynn !

And down the darkening coast run the tumultuous
And clap their hands, and shout to you, O Bells
           of Lynn !

Till from the shuddering sea, with your wild in-
Ye summon up the spectral moon, O Bells of
           Lynn !

And startled at the sight, like the weird woman
          of Endor,
Ye cry aloud, and then are still, O Bells of
          Lynn !

from: The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  Household Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co.)  1886.