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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 418

“The Jewish Cemetery at Newport” is 1854 poem written by famed American poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The evocative poem is written in iambic pentameter and follows an ABAB rhyme scheme. It consists of sixty lines, which are separated into fifteen stanzas.

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In 1852, Longfellow visited the Jewish cemetery in Newport and wrote a poem—which he published two years later—in which he describes the place and pays respect to the Jewish community that lived in Newport, Rhode Island between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries.

He incorporates several symbols and allusions that describe the origin and history of the Hebrew religion and culture; for instance, in the second stanza, he mentions “the long, mysterious Exodus of Death.” In Hebrew texts, Exodus is the second book of the Torah (The Hebrew Bible) which tells the story of how the Jews, or the Israelites, managed to escape from Egypt and free themselves from slavery with the help of their leader Moses.

Even though the Jews have abandoned their homes in Newport, Longfellow writes how the synagogue and the cemetery had been well-kept and carefully maintained.

And not neglected; for a hand unseen,
Scattering its bounty, like a summer rain,
Still keeps their graves and their remembrance green

The poem seems to have an elegiac, melancholic tone, as Longfellow writes of the tragic history of the Jews, their struggles, their brutal prosecution, and the oppression, discrimination, and mistreatment that they suffered by the hands of the Christians and the anti-Semitists. He also mentions how, despite all of their sufferings, they never lost their faith, and they remained proud of their origin and identity.

Trampled and beaten were they as the sand,
And yet unshaken as the continent.

However, Longfellow believed that all of that might’ve been futile, and he wrote what would become the most memorable and most controversial part of the poem, in which he proclaims that the Jewish nation has died.

But ah! what once has been shall be no more!
The groaning earth in travail and in pain
Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
And the dead nations never rise again.

“The Jewish Cemetery at Newport” was well received by the general public, although some readers did express their displeasure at the poem’s ending. Because of his tendency to empathize with people’s pain and suffering in almost all of his poems, Longfellow soon became one of the most beloved American poets of the nineteenth century.

You can find the full poem here.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499

“The Jewish Cemetery at Newport” is a lyric meditation in fifteen rhymed quatrains. The title indicates the location where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow focuses his reverie on time, history, and death. As in the tradition of English meditative poetry of the eighteenth century, the poem at once paints a visual portrait of the cemetery yet also uses the place as a way to explore the poet’s own reflections.

The poem is set in Newport, Rhode Island, at the oldest Jewish burial ground in America, one long since abandoned. It is written from the perspective of a solitary observer basically identical with the poet himself. In the first two stanzas, the poet regards the cemetery, muses over its desertion, and thinks not only of the desolate present but also of its hallowed past.

In the fourth stanza, reading the names chiseled on the gravestones, the poet is caught by the incongruity between the biblical first names of the deceased and their Spanish and Portuguese surnames. This leads him to imagine the people behind the names, initiating the central movement in the poem, from the fourth to the eleventh stanzas. In this part of the poem, the poet conjures up a vivid...

(The entire section contains 1564 words.)

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