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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Salem, Mass.

Salem Witchcraft

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

(From Prologue to Giles Corey of the Salem Farms)

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.