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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. 





Call up the spirit of the ocean wave,
And bid him rouse the storm !  The billows roar
And dash their angry surges on the shore !
Around the craggy cliffs the waters rave,
And foam and welter on the trembling beach !
The plovers cry, and the hoarse curlews screech,
As, borne along by the relentless storm,
With turned-up wings they strive against the wind.
The storm-tost ship can no sure haven find,
But black-browed death, in his most horrid form,
Strides o’er the waves and bars her destined way.
The wild winds in her shrouds their revels keep !
And while the sailors seek the sheltering bay,
Their last cry mingles with roaring deep.



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