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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?”





Nahant is fair in the summer days,
Wrapped in a veil of silvery haze,
When the sweet south wind around her plays.

The small waves melt on the golden sand,
Beauty and fragrance on either hand,
We seem to tread an enchanted land.

Or, clad in her Autumn splendors rare,
How lovely she is, how calm and fair
In the royal garments she loves to wear.

Like a flashing banner each stately tree,
Like an opal, the tints of sky and sea,
Thus she waits for the Winter, silently.

                           . . .

But when, at last, the snow comes down,
Hiding the hills so bare and brown,
Hiding the busy, distant town–

It shrouds us in its robe of white,
We cannot see the beacon’s light–
The world is blotted from our sight.

                            . . .

In the night, with its peril and mystery,
We hear a sound like a startled cry
As the great ships pass in the darkness by.

Oh, but to see the beacon’s light,
To cheer the gloom of this stormy night,
And guide them on their way aright !

Oh, but to hear, through the tempest’s din,
The clear, sweet chime of the bells of Lynn,
That the ships may safely their harbor win !

Hiding the hills so bare and brown,
Hiding the busy, distant town,
How dreary it is when the snow comes down !



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