The Cemetery in Literature
In the summer of 1852, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, then serving as Harvard’s Smith Professor of Modern Languages, brought his family from Cambridge, Massachusetts down to Newport for a vacation. While walking the local streets, he became entranced with the old Jewish cemetery and prevailed upon the now elderly Gould to let him enter. In his diary he states:
Here we are, in the clover-fields on the cliff, at Hazard’s house; near the beach, with the glorious sea unrolling its changing billows before us. Here, in truth, the sea speaks Italian; at Nahant it speaks Norse. Went this morning into the Jewish burying-ground, with a polite old gentleman who keeps the key. It is a shady nook, at the corner of two dusty, frequented streets, with an iron fence and a granite gateway, ....Longfellow was not the only poet inspired by the Synagogue and its burial ground. Emma Lazarus, best known for her sonnet “The New Colossus” that adorns the Statue of Liberty, also frequented Newport at her family’s summer home. In 1867, at the age of eighteen, she was inspired to write “In the Jewish Synagogue of Newport.” Her family, leading members of the Jewish community, were also well assimilated into local culture and were well respected outside of Jewish circles. Emma, although welcomed and totally accepted in the Christian world by her peers, strongly identified herself as a Jew.
.... Over one of the graves grows a weeping willow, - a grandchild of the willow over Napoleon’s grave in St. Helena.
While both Longfellow and Lazarus wrote of the lost community in Newport, they did so from very different perspectives. Longfellow wrote with the cynicism of age and as an observer outside of to the community. Lazarus addressed the same subject from the perspective of youth and as one who was raised within the Jewish community.Ultimately Lazarus developed a direct correspondence with Longfellow. Following his death in 1882, she eulogized him in The American Hebrew (4 April 1882) commenting on his poem about Newport.
The Jewish Cemetery at Newport
How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves,
Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
Silent beside the never-silent waves,
At rest in all this moving up and down!
The trees are white with dust, that o'er their sleep
Wave their broad curtains in the south-wind's breath,
While underneath these leafy tents they keep
The long, mysterious Exodus of Death.
And these sepulchral stones, so old and brown,
That pave with level flags their burial-place,
Seem like the tablets of the Law, thrown down
And broken by Moses at the mountain's base.
The very names recorded here are strange,
Of foreign accent, and of different climes;
Alvares and Rivera interchange
With Abraham and Jacob of old times.
"Blessed be God! for he created Death!"
The mourners said, "and Death is rest and peace;"
Then added, in the certainty of faith,
"And giveth Life that nevermore shall cease."
Closed are the portals of their Synagogue,
No Psalms of David now the silence break,
No Rabbi reads the ancient Decalogue
In the grand dialect the Prophets spake.
Gone are the living, but the dead remain,
And not neglected; for a hand unseen,
Scattering its bounty, like a summer rain,
Still keeps their graves and their remembrance green.
How came they here? What burst of Christian hate,
What persecution, merciless and blind,
Drove o'er the sea -- that desert desolate--
These Ishmaels and Hagars of mankind?
They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,
Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;
Taught in the school of patience to endure
The life of anguish and the death of fire.
All their lives long, with the unleavened bread
And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,
The wasting famine of the heart they fed,
And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.
Anathema maranatha! was the cry
That rang from town to town, from street to street;
At every gate the accursed Mordecai
Was mocked and jeered, and spurned by Christian feet.
Pride and humiliation hand in hand
Walked with them through the world where'er they went;
Trampled and beaten were they as the sand,
And yet unshaken as the continent.
For in the background figures vague and vast
Of patriarchs and of prophets rose sublime,
And all the great traditions of the Past
They saw reflected in the coming time.
And thus forever with reverted look
The mystic volume of the world they read,
Spelling it backward, like a Hebrew book,
Till life became a Legend of the Dead.
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.
In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport
Here, where the noises of the busy town,
The ocean's plunge and roar can enter not,
We stand and gaze around with fearful awe,
And muse upon the consecrated spot.
No signs of life are here: the very prayers,
Inscribed around are in a language dead,
The light of the "perpetual lamp" is spent
That an undying radiance was to shed.
What prayers were in this temple offered up,
Wrung from sad hearts that knew no joy on earth,
By these lone exiles of a thousand years,
From the fair sunrise land that gave them birth!
Now as we gaze, in this new world of light,
Upon this relic of the days of old,
The present vanishes, and tropic bloom
And Eastern towns and temples we behold.
Again we see the patriarch with his flocks,
The purple seas, the hot sky o'erhead,
The slaves of Egypt--omens, mysteries--
Dark fleeing hosts by flaming angels led.
A wondrous light upon a sky-kissed mount,
A man who reads Jehovah's written law,
'Midst blinding glory and effulgence rare,
Unto a people prone with reverent awe.
The pride of luxury's barbaric pomp,
In the rich court of royal Solomon--
Alas! we wake: one scene alone remains
The exiles by the streams of Babylon.
Our softened voices send us back again
But mournful echoes through the empty hall;
Our footsteps have a strange, unnatural sound,
And with unwonted gentleness they fall.
The weary ones, the sad, the suffering,,
All found their comfort in the holy place,
And children's gladness, and men's gratitude
Took voice and mingled in the chant of praise.
The funeral and the marriage, now, alas!
We know not which is sadder to recall;
For youth and happiness have followed age,
And green grass lieth gently over all.
And still the shrine is holy yet,
With its lone floors where reverent feet once trod.
Take off your shoes as by the burning bush,
Before the mystery of death and God.
Colonial Jewish Cemetery - Newport, Rhode Island
|Jacob Lopez (1750 - 1822)|
|Myer Benjamin (1723 - 1776)||Moses Lopez (1706 - 1767)|
|Mrs. Phila Elcon ( - 1820)||Moses Lopez (1739 - 1830)|
|Catherine Hays (1776 - 1854)||Mrs. Rachel Lopez Lopez (1758 - 1789)|
|Judah Hays (1770 - 1832)||Mrs. Rebecca Lopez ( - 1854)|
|Moses Michael Hays (1739 - 1805)||Abraham Minis (1788 - 1801)|
|Rachel Myers Hays (1738 - 1810)||Mrs. Maratha Moravia ( - 1787)|
|Rebekah Hays (1769 - 1802)||Isaac Polock (1700 - 1764)|
|Slowey Hays (1779 - 1836)||Isaac Jacob Polock (1746 - 1782)|
|Benjamin Levy (1692 - 1787)||Mrs. Rebecca Polock ( - 1764)|
|Bilah Levy (1742 - 1781)||Abraham Rodriguez Rivera ( - 1765)|
|Mrs. Judith Levy (1700 - 1788)||Jacob Rodriguez Rivera (1717 - 1789)|
|Moses Levy (1704 - 1792)||Mrs. Rachel Rodriguez Rivera ( - 1761)|
|Sarah Ann Levy (1808 - 1809)||Edwin Rosenstein ( - 1866)|
|Aaron Lopez (1731 - 1782)||Isaac Mendes Seixas (1708 - 1780)|
|Mrs. Abigail Lopez Lopez (1726 - 1762)||Isaac Seixas (1779 - 1786)|
|Mrs Abigail Lopez ( - 1792)||Moses Seixas (1744 - 1809)|
|Isaac Lopez ( - 1763)||Abraham Touro (1777 - 1822)|
|Jacob Lopez (1755 - 1764)||Judah Touro (1775 - 1854)|
|Mrs. Reyna Hays Touro (1743 - 1784)|