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Nahant: Poetry by the Sea


Alonzo LewisALONZO LEWIS        (1794 – 1861) was a historian and a poet, and Lynn’s leading intellectual in the nineteenth century.  His History of Lynn was first published in 1829, updated in 1844, and posthumously revised by James R. Newhall in 1865.  It is the foundation for all histories of Lynn and Nahant, and in it, Lewis argues it is probable that Vikings landed at Nahant.  As a poet, Alonzo Lewis was known as “The Bard of Lynn,” and he established the traditions upon which the poetry of Lynn rests.  He published three books of poetry between 1823 and 1834, and in all, fourteen editions of his collected works were published, culimating in the 1883 compendium, The Poetical Works of Alonzo Lewis, edited by his son Ion. In his history, Lewis wrote, “In summer, a day at Nahant is delightful, but a storm in winter is glorious.”

In their history, Nahant On The Rocks (Nahant Historical Society 1991), Stanley Paterson and Carl Seaburg refer to Lewis as a “surveyor.”  The authors tell how Lewis began the call for a light on Egg Rock after a storm overturned a boat and seven sailors died, a tragedy that became a source for his poem, “Storm at Nahant.”  The authors also describe Lewis’ efforts in 1849 to keep the first cart road to Nahant open and to prevent erosion on Long Beach by planting trees, and later grass.

Unique among all the poems that Lewis wrote is the humorous “Ode to the Sea Serpent,” which makes the serpent into an epic creature who returns to Nahant because of the culinary delights available at the Nahant Hotel.  Perhaps the best of the handful of poems Lewis wrote about Nahant is “Nahant Song,” which romanticizes Nahant and describes the optical illusion of “doubling,” seen while crossing from Lynn over “shining sand” at low tide. 




Nahant is lovely ! away we go,
O’er the polished beach, when the tide is low ;
And we mark the gleam of our horse’s feet,
Deep mirrored, as in a crystal street !

We flit along o’er the shining sand,
Far out in the tide, away from land ;
And we seem in the middle air to go,
With the sky above,  and the sky below !

The sand street shines like a path of glass,
Where the visions seem doubled as we pass ;
And beautiful scenes to our eyes unfold,
Like pageants that eastern bards have told !

The white gull floats in the bright blue air,
Her scream is loud as we pass her there ;
And the small birds run, with motion fleet,
On the line where the sand and billows meet.

White sails are gleaming far on the tide ;
The shy wild fowl o’er the surges ride ;
The seal comes forth from his home in the deep,
On the kelpy ledge of the cliff to sleep !

The thin wave is striped with the long sea sedge,
The star-fish comes to the water’s edge ;
And the green sea plants, and pearly shells,
Float up to our feet when the billow swells !

Nahant forever ! – the scene is fair ;
The Swallows’ Cave and the Grot are there ;
And the Spouting Horn, when full waves come,
Sends out its thunder in sparking foam.

We sit on the rocks, and we sport in the wave ;
We gather the shells which the surges lave ;
And we drink pure health in the floating breeze,
That is poured from the urns of the rolling seas.



from: The Poetical Works of Alonzo Lewis  edited by Ion Lewis (Boston: A. Williams & Co.)  1883.