Almost every Friday I recite my poetry at a local open mic, so I thought Friday would be a good day of the week to share a weekly poem on a topic related to genealogy. Occasionally I will share my own poetry, but I am going to start off with a classic.
The Jewish Cemetery at Newport
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
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 south-wind's breath,
While underneath these leafy tents they keep
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
The very names recorded here are strange,
Of foreign accent, and of different climes;
"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."
No Psalms of David now the silence break,
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 --
They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,
Taught in the school of patience to endure
The life of anguish and the death of fire.
And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,
The wasting famine of the heart they fed,
That rang from town to town, from street to street;
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.
Longfellow was a great poet, but not the best of historians. Whenever I read such lines as "Gone are the living, but the dead remain" and "dead nations never rise again" a quote of Mark Twain's comes to mind: The report of my death was an exaggeration. (link to handwritten note of Twain's...this quote is often reworded.)
However, Longfellow isn't to be completely blamed. The Touro Synagogue is the oldest Synagogue in America (estab. 1763), but from about 1781 to 1883 the Synagogue lay empty, though preserved. (The cemetery goes back to 1677) Timeline.