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Nahant: Poetry by the Sea


Annie JohnsonANNIE JOHNSON        (1827 – 1910) is Nahant’s greatest homegrown poet.  Affectionately known as “Annie of Nahant,” she was a member of one of the town’s leading families.  Her poetry frequently appeared in newspapers, and her book, Songs From Nahant, was published in 1892.  Annie of Nahant was also a painter, and in 2005, her paintings of Castle Rock and Pulpit Rock, both done around 1870, were part of The Nahant Historical Society’s 30th Anniversary art exhibit, “Nahant: The Painted Shores, 1800 – 1950”.

Annie Johnson was well acquainted with naturalist Louis Agassiz and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, both of whom summered on Nahant.  Johnson’s best known poem, “The Bells of Lynn,” opens by referring to Longfellow’s poem of the same name.  Interestingly, in the version presented here, published on Memorial Day in 1885 by The Lynn Transcript, two verses were added before the last.  Each refers to a memorable time when the bells rang during the Civil War. Another of Annie of Nahant’s memorable poems is “When the Snow Comes Down,” which was featured in The Lynn Transcript’s 1911 article on Johnson, part of the Lynn Writers Who Are Worth Knowing series.  In the poem, Johnson contrasts the bright enchantment of summer days to the sullen dreariness of winter snow storms.  And, in a poem based on Nahant history, the richly imaginative “Dorothy,” the speaker of the poem engages the spirit of Dorothy Mills, for whom Dorothy’s Beach is named.

Annie Johnson was not only Nahant’s foremost homegrown poet, she was also hailed as one of the region’s best by Sidney Perley in his 1889 anthology, Poets of Essex County.  Annie Johnson’s stature as Nahant’s leading poet was affirmed in 1903 when she read her commemorative poem, specially composed, at the celebration of Nahant’s Semi-centennial.  The last line reads, “Who would not love thee, beautiful Nahant?”





" Bid the winds speak of me where I have dwelt,
Bid the stream’s voice, of all my soul hath felt,
                            A thought restore.”

In twilight land, where sleep nor waking is,
(A mystic world, from common life apart,)
Some presence, from a fairer world than this,
Seemed to approach, and fill with joy my heart,
Saying, “at thine unspoken wish I come,
Speak thou for my poor lips so cold and dumb,”

Aye, for thy sake, my lips shall not be dumb
Oh, fairest face, where such strange beauty is.
I welcome thee, bright vision, thou hast come
To dwell forever in my soul apart.
Do thou but grant unto my waiting heart
The grace of one more hour as sweet as this !

Smiling, she said, I came to thee for this.
No more in lonely silence, cold and dumb
I dwell, my life shall be within thy heart,
Entwined with thine, renewed my being is,
And thou, no longer shalt thou dwell apart,
For at thy lightest bidding I will come.

The voices of the waves that go and come,
The winds that blow from other shores to this,
I knew and loved them, for I dwell apart
From the far world – my heart was sad and dumb,
And in such solitude no joyance is,
From my own sorrow, I have read thy heart.

As I recall my home, the simple heart
Of my lost childhood unto me doth come,
Here grew the willows – yon the meadow is–
My sheltering forest fairer was than this,
Where glad birds sang.  Silent to me, and dumb
All happy sounds, from life and love apart.

Yon sandy cove, where oft I mused apart,
The beach, so dear to childhood’s careless heart,
Still bear my name.  Though I am still and dumb
Oh, let these speak of me to all who come,
No earthly haunt so fair and dear as this.
I go, for thee alone mine errand is !

Oh, silent heart, where silence only is !
Here, by the sea, I wait for thee apart –
To cheer the gloom of this sad hour, come !




NOTE.  Dorothy, youngest daughter of James Mills, who was one of the earliest inhabitants of Nahant.  A cove and beach still bear her name.  See Lewis’ History of Lynn.

from: Songs From Nahant  (Lynn, MA: Nichols Press) 1892.