> Nahant > Godfathers of Nahant Poetry

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. 



     Very like a whale! – Shakespeare

Hail, mighty serpent! who dost come
From thy dark ocean cave, as some
   Great monarch of the water !
Art thou a mild, pacific thing ?
Or dost thou seek, like earthly king,
   To dye the waves with slaughter ?

He who shall dare, with hook and line,
To snare thee on the foaming brine,
   May chance, perhaps, to rue it !
But say, what art thou ? art a whale ?
Or mighty sunfish, with a tail
   Of fifty fathoms to it ?

I marvel much if thou’rt the same
Old serpent so well know to fame,
   Which tempted Eve to wander,
And leave her own dear husband’s side,
Lured by thy dark and scaly hide ;
   A thing that makes us ponder.

If so, then haply thou mayst tell
How such a wondrous thing befell,
   And leave no more to doubt it ;
Say, didst thou kiss her glowing cheek ?
If thou has any language speak,
   And tell us all about it.

Since that old time, where has thou been ?
Hast tempted other maids to sin ?
   Or was the first sufficient ?
And have the rest, as preachers say,
In error’s path still gone astray !
   In virtue quite deficient ?

It may be, thou’rt the fish that crammed
The prophet Jonah, when he shammed
   The famous proclamation !
Or haply – take my low salaam ! –
Thou art the monarch of the Mam-
   mouth Cod Association !

Perhaps thou art the mighty snake,
The Roman army did o’ertake,
   Upon Bagrada’s river,
Which made, as ancient story says,
Of Regulus, for three whole days,
   The chosen cohorts quiver!

Perhaps then thou art the kraken, seen
On Norway’s frozen coast, between
   Kiel and Copenhagen ;
The sailors viewed with vast surprise
Thy dark protuberances rise,
   And fled, to save their bacon!


                        . . .


Since last we saw thy famous phiz, –
For me I wonder where it is ! –
   Say, whither hast thou wandered ?
Hast journeyed round the southern isles,
Where nature in her beauty smiles,
   And lavish gifts are squandered ?

Or has thy long and slender shape,
Glided around Malacca’s cape,
   To Pekin’s yellow waters,
And seen the ‘Mistress of the seas’
   Add some few thousands of Chinese.
To her long list of slaughters ?


                       . . .


Returning from thy watery jaunt,
Again thou visitest Nahant,
   Right jovial and hearty :
And men from city and from town,
To see thy phiz, are hastening down,
   In many a social party !

Sea monarch ! why dost thou love so well
To ramble round Nahant hotel ?
   Is there some secret treasure ?
Or hast thou tasted the good things
Which Mister Drew each season brings
   For folks of wealth and pleasure ?

And now, old water snake, beware,
Of Swampscot fisherman take care ;
   Or they may chance to catch thee !
Thy body, well I ween, would reach
Quite the whole length of the Long Beach,
    If on it they should stretch thee !


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