A majority of the American literature canon is comprised of authors who lived in New England – Louisa May Alcott, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edgar Allen Poe, to name a few. With the exceptions of Twain and Stowe, all of the aforementioned authors lived in this very state (Massachusetts, just in case you forgot).
The 34 cities and towns that comprise the North of Boston region have an especially rich literary history highlighted the following three authors: Anne Bradstreet, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Robert Frost.
Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)
“If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.”
(To my Dear and Loving Husband)
The first female poet to be published in the United States, Anne Bradstreet resided in the North of Boston for most of her life. Bradstreet was born in England in 1612 and emigrated to America in 1630 where she landed in what is now Salem. After residing in Boston and Cambridge for many years, Anne Bradstreet and her family moved northward to Ipswich and North Andover (where she died in 1672). Her poem, Verses upon the Burning of our House, was written as an ode to the burning of the Bradstreet’s North Andover home:
“Then coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest his grace that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
“But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, and for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed, from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness. . . . The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude!“
(The Scarlet Letter (1850))
Salem’s most famous author, Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in the city in 1804. A descendant of the notorious Judge John Hathorne (one of the lead judges of the Salem Witch Trials), Hawthorne added a “w” to his last name to distance himself from his infamous ancestor. He died in 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
Works such as The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The Blithedale Romance (1852) have earned Nathaniel Hawthorne a secure spot in literary history but he is probably best-known locally for The House of the Seven Gables (1851), a fictional novel inspired by his cousin’s, Susannah Ingersoll’s, home in Salem.
“[T]hey . . . hinted that he was about to build his house over an unquiet grave. . . . The terror and ugliness of Maule’s crime, and the wretchedness of his punishment, would darken the freshly plastered walls, and infect them early with the scent of an old and melancholy house.”
(The House of the Seven Gables (1851))
The house is now a museum which offers daily tours. Also on the property, among other historical homes, is the home in which Hawthorne himself was born. For more information, visit http://www.7gables.org/index.htm
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.”
(“Nothing Gold Can Stay”)
One of the most popular poets of the twentieth century, Robert Frost was born in California, but spent the majority of his life in New England. A childhood resident of Lawrence, Frost graduated from Lawrence High School in 1892. He died in 1963 in Boston.
Frost’s contribution to Massachusetts was not only though his poems, many reminiscent of local scenes, but also through his indirect naming of this region – the North of Boston takes its name from Frost’s 1914 poetry collection of the same name.
“My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still.
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples; I am drowsing off.
I cannot shake the shimmer from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the water-trough,
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and reappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
And I keep hearing from the cellar-bin
That rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking; I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall,
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised, or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep. “