Friday, November 02, 2012


Last week while I was posting about my ancestors who'd been among the
accused or accusers during the Salem Witch trials I had a sudden inspiration.
I still need a poem for my own contribution to the Fourth Annual Great
Genealogy Challenge. Why not a poem about the Salem Witches? So off
and on the past few days I've been searching for one that I could use,
one written by a local poet. A poem by distant cousin John Greenleaf
Whittier would have been perfect. Unfortunately, even though he'd
written a number of poems on the witch trial era, they were all very, very
long. Then I wondered if Henry Wadsworth Longfellow might have
written one, and I found this in an anthology he'd edited, Poems of
, P229-231:

Salem Witchcraft

Delusions of the days that once have been,   
Witchcraft and wonders of the world unseen,   
Phantoms of air, and necromantic arts   
That crushed the weak and awed the stoutest hearts,—   
These are our theme to-night; and vaguely here,         
Through the dim mists that crowd the atmosphere,   
We draw the outlines of weird figures cast   
In shadow on the background of the Past.   
 Who would believe that in the quiet town   
Of Salem, and amid the woods that crown           
The neighboring hillsides, and the sunny farms   
That fold it safe in their paternal arms,—   
Who would believe that in those peaceful streets,   
Where the great elms shut out the summer heats,   
Where quiet reigns, and breathes through brain and breast         
The benediction of unbroken rest,—   
Who would believe such deeds could find a place   
As these whose tragic history we retrace?   
’T was but a village then: the goodman ploughed   
His ample acres under sun or cloud;           
The goodwife at her doorstep sat and spun,   
And gossiped with her neighbors in the sun;   
The only men of dignity and state   
Were then the Minister and the Magistrate,   
Who ruled their little realm with iron rod,          
Less in the love than in the fear of God;   
And who believed devoutly in the Powers   
Of Darkness, working in this world of ours,   
In spells of Witchcraft, incantations dread,   
And shrouded apparitions of the dead.           
Upon this simple folk “with fire and flame,”   
Saith the old Chronicle, “the Devil came;   
Scattering his firebrands and his poisonous darts,   
To set on fire of Hell all tongues and hearts!   
And ’t is no wonder; for, with all his host,          
There most he rages where he hateth most,   
And is most hated; so on us he brings   
All these stupendous and portentous things!”   
Something of this our scene to-night will show;   
And ye who listen to the Tale of Woe,          
Be not too swift in casting the first stone,   
Nor think New England bears the guilt alone.   
This sudden burst of wickedness and crime   
Was but the common madness of the time,   
When in all lands, that lie within the sound           
Of Sabbath bells, a Witch was burned or drowned.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Poem Of Places: Vol.2 America  Houghton & Mifflin, Boston 1878

1 comment:

Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

Great poem, and a new one for me. I had never read it before. Thanks for introducing me to another Longfellow about our ancestors (I've lost track of how many times Longfellow's poetry touched a member of my family tree!)