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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, September 8, 1880.



       Four by the clock! and yet not day;
But the great world rolls and wheels away,
With its cities on land, and its ships at sea,
          Into the dawn that is to be!

       Only the lamp in the anchored bark
       Sends its glimmer across the dark,
       And the heavy breathing of the sea
       Is the only sound that comes to me.



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