pioneers

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: Frank Barcelos via tapinto.net

A Thanksgiving Reminder to a Grateful City

                                     I

Yes, Newark, praise them well!—the first to tread
        The river shore where stands thy busy town.
They followed where the shining Vision led,
From pride and persecution bravely fled,
        And laid thy deep and firm foundation down.

From out a rough and jealous wilderness,
        Praying, they fashioned homes for babe and wife.
In deprivation, loving God no less,
They lived such lives as He their Lord should bless,
        And, living nobly, gave thee noble life.

They loved thee well, thy Founder Pioneers,
        Those earnest, faithful women, fearless men;
To build thee true they spent their toil, their tears;
And now in these their city’s golden years,
        Listen! Their spirits call to thee again.

                                     II

“O Town of ours, proud of thy centuries,
        What folk are these who lift, and build, and mine—
What strange, new, striving multitudes are these
Amid thy maze where stood our wildwood trees?
        Behold, they, too, are Pioneers of thine!

“By Vision led, these other Pilgrim bands
        Come now to thee in hope, as once came we.
They flee the fettered and the failing lands
To proffer toil of eager heart and hands
        For life, and homes, and manly liberty.

“Their faith in thee is great as ours of old;
        Within thy gates they see a shelter sure,
A welcome refuge and a friendly fold
Where each his right to happiness may hold,
        May seek and find the peace that shall endure.

“Their struggles are as ours, O Newark Town!
        They are the Pioneers of times to be;
And God all-wise, from Heaven looking down,
Well knoweth He the virtue, the renown,
        The honor they and theirs shall bring to thee.

“Beloved City, in thy golden years
        Wouldst thou a debt of gratitude repay
For any toil of ours, for any tears?
Be kind to these thy newest Pioneers
        Who come to build thee glorious today!”

                                     III

So speak the Founders, and are heard no more.
        But hark!—up from the wilderness of walls
A joyous voice, deep as the ocean’s roar!
In answer to the Pioneers of yore
        The Spirit of the living city calls:

“Strong heart, stout arm, and willing, eager hand,
        These are my pride as in the Founders’ day.
Firm in the faith of honest toil I stand
And sound my challenge forth to every land,
        And will till earth and time shall pass away!

“Fear not! My yoke shall set my children free.
        For me their might of arm and heart and nerve
Shall bless the nations to the furthest sea;
And all my wealth of happiness shall be
        For these new souls who come to help me serve!”

The number of Newarkers exploded in the decades before and after 1900. Met by a flood of newcomers from eastern and southern Europe, census enumerators in 1890, 1900 and 1910 found that Newark’s population had swollen by 33, 35 and 41 percent respectively over the counts of ten years before. A 1909 tally revealed that three-quarters of the city’s residents were immigrants or children of immigrants.

The pressure of this human tide was felt in every facet of life, from education to public health to policing to politics. Anti-immigrant sentiment flared occasionally in the press and the streets. But the city economy, dependent on a cheap and plentiful labor supply, successfully absorbed and helped to assimilate generation after generation of new arrivals.

This poem appeared in the Newark Evening News on the eve of Thanksgiving Day 1916.

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summer’s end

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image via nj.com

                To A. E. B. M.

Hushed are the birds that lately thrilled
        The morning world with melody.
At eventide their songs are stilled—
        What can this woodland silence be?

High in a hammock, zephyr-swung,
        Low in a locust’s thorny bough,
Deep in a dell, the reeds among,
        The birds have better business now.

Let summer end, and o’er the hill
        The sylvan chorus sounds again;
Robin and thrush and bluebird trill
        This message to the hearts of men:

“Though April hopes be memories,
        ‘Tis small content regret can give.
Put grieving by! Enough it is
        To live and love, to love and live.”

The verse of Nebraska-born Leonard Harmon Robbins appeared regularly in the Newark News between 1901 and 1917. These lines are from his collection Jersey Jingles published in 1907.

each a phoenix

by Margaret Tsuda

From the ashes of
        dead loves
I rise to
        love anew.

In the cold coals of
        dull disappointments
I grow fresh wings to
        soar in hope again.

From still-smoking embers of
        total defeats
I come forth to
        build a new city.

I am the Phoenix—
not a bird from
half-forgotten legend
but
        Everyman who
        loves
        hopes
        builds!

Image: Jared Kofsky via nj.com

Until the night of Wednesday, July 12, 1967, it was hoped and widely believed that the civil disorders afflicting other cities would leave Newark unscathed. What Life magazine would later call “the predictable insurrection” wrought deep wounds in the fabric of the Central Ward, with a loss of lives and livelihoods out of all proportion to Newark’s size. It also impelled a reconsideration of the kind of city Newark was to be.

Artist and poet Margaret Tsuda, a recent arrival in 1967, was one of the many who stayed and joined their futures to the city’s own. Her poem appeared in the Christian Science Monitor of January 20, 1971, and in the collection Cry Love Aloud.

lines in commemoration of the heroes of the revolution

by “A Native of Newark”

Image: Newark Public Library

A sad’ning sound’s in the troubl’d air
        That fans the western main—
Britannia mourns in fix’d despair,
        Her bravest heroes slain.

Her honor gone, her banners torn,
        And trampled in the dust;
The dauntless few who brav’d her scorn
        Have proved their cause was just.

The din of war has died away,
        And foemen sheathe the sword;
Columbia spurns despotic sway,
        She owns no foreign lord.

Thanks to our sires who nobly dar’d
        Oppression’s iron front,
And the free rights of man declar’d,
        E’en in the battle’s brunt,

Who drew the sword but to oppose
        Stern arbitrary laws,
Nor sheath’d it till fair freedom rose
        And crown’d the glorious cause.

Let not the aged sire bewail
        His son, the prop of age;
He fought his country’s foes to quell
        And tame their vengeful rage.

Mourn not, ye weeping widow’d train,
        A husband’s timeless call;
Freedom forbids you to complain—
        See! freedom decks their fall.

Mourn not, ye noble orphan band,
        A brave departed sire;
The glory of your native land
        Lights up their fun’ral pyre.

Blest be the mem’ry of the brave,
        Who in the conflict died;
Each nobly sought a freeman’s grave,
        When freedom was deny’d.

Oh, may the rights for which they strove
        Endure thro’ lasting time;
May union, liberty and love
        Long bless this happy clime.

There’s sound of gladness and of joy,
        And heaven-ward pealing strains,
Of praise and thanks to God on high,
        Who broke the despot’s chains;

Who rent their galling yoke in twain,
        And snapt their iron goad;
Who eas’d the burden of their pain
        And laid aside their load:

Gave the lone orphan child a sire
        And calm’d the mourner’s wo;
Bade desolating war expire,
        And peace and joy to flow.

Columbians, venerate the name,
        The all comprising will,
Which ever was and is the same,
        The kind dispenser still

Of every good and every bliss
        Which men on earth enjoy;
Almighty sov’reign of the world,
        Jehovah the most high.

The Camp Homestead (pictured) is considered one of Newark’s great lost landmarks. Located at the present intersection of Broad and Camp Streets, it was the dwelling of Captain Nathaniel Camp, whom legend says General George Washington charged with defending the town during a visit there in 1777. The home is thought to have stood into the 1850s.

The above verses appear in a small volume issued in Newark in 1831, called The Aspect of the Times: A Political Poem, and Other Pieces. The title work is an unapologetic denunciation of Indian land claims (a vexatious issue of the times) and of “those, who continue, without regard to honor or truth, to blast and defame the real well-wishers of the Union.” The unidentified author despaired of changing anyone’s opinion, saying, “I fear, the case is hopeless.”

city flowers

by George Bancroft Duren

Image: Myles Zhang

The flowers are as gay and sweet
That bloom along my city street
As those that drink the summer rain
Along some quiet country lane.

And dew that covers them at night
Is just as crystalline and white
As dew which lacquers those asleep
In some secluded woodland keep.

And in their fragrant breath there lives
The same delight a flower gives
Which dreams beneath a country sky–
And not where traffic thunders by.

George Bancroft Duren was an editor of the Newark Evening News. This poem appeared in his 1926 collection Earthbound.

a rainy day in camp

by A. M. Smith

Image: Newark Public Library

It’s a cheerless, lonesome evening,
        When the soaking, sodden ground
Will not echo to the footfall
        Of the sentinel’s dull round.

God’s blue star-spangled banner
        To-night is not unfurled,
Surely He has not deserted
        This weary, warring world.

I peer into the darkness,
        And the crowding fancies come,
The night wind blowing northward
        Carries all my heart towards home.

For I ’listed in this army,
        Not exactly to my mind,
But my country called for helpers,
        And I couldn’t stay behind.

So I’ve had a sight of drilling,
        And have roughed it many ways,
And death has nearly had me,
        Yet I think the service pays.

It’s a blessed sort of feeling,
        That though you live or die,
You have helped your grand old country,
        And fought right loyally.

But I can’t help thinking sometimes,
        When a wet day’s leisure comes,
That I hear the old home voices
        Talking louder than the drums.

And the far, familiar faces
        Peep in at the tent door,
And the little children’s footsteps
        Go pit-pat on the floor.

I can’t help thinking, some how,
        Of what the parson reads,
All about that other warfare,
        Which every true man leads.

And wife, dear-hearted creature,
        Seems saying in my ear,
“I’d rather have you in those ranks
        Than to see you brigadier.”

I call myself a brave man,
        But in my heart I lie;
For my country and her honor
        I am fiercely free to die.

But when the Lord, who gave me,
        Asks for my service here,
To fight the good fight faithfully,
        I’m slacking in the rear.

And yet I know this Captain
        All love and care to be,
He would never get impatient,
        With a weak recruit like me.

And I know He’d not forget me
        When the day of peace appears;
I should share with Him the victory
        Of all His volunteers.

And it’s kind of cheerful thinking,
        Beside the dull tent fire,
About that big promotion,
        When He says, “Come up higher.”

For I seem to see Him waiting,
        Where a gathered army meets;
A great victorious army,
        Surging up the golden streets.

And I hear Him read the roll call,
        And my heart is beating fast,
When the dear Recording Angel
        Writes down my happy name.

But the fire is dead white ashes,
        And the tent is chilling cold,
And I’m playing with the battle,
        When I have never been enrolled.

A year and a day from America’s official entry into World War I, the Newark Sunday Call published selections, “from among the best,” of “a barrage fire of verse” received from local men under arms. The editors on April 7, 1918, observed that “the great mass of verse produced since the inception of the world war is one of the most interesting phases of its development.”

Poet A. M. Smith was one of the 20,876 service members from Newark thought to have taken part in the conflict. A list of their names took seven years to compile; it was laid in a vault beneath the monument Planting the Standard of Democracy by Charles Henry Niehaus, which stands in Lincoln Park.

lullaby of avon ave.

by Amiri Baraka

Image: Anthony Alvarez via nj.com

I used to walk past Sassy’s crib
a couple times a week, when young

And each time say, “That’s
Where Sarah Vaughn lives.”

That was when Symphony Sid
used to call her, “The Divine One,”
Late nights, from hip Bird Land

Oh man, what a feeling that was
Divine & so hip & so very
beautiful.

The house is gone now
Symphony Sid too

As for the town, now
Sassy told us
just before she split

I’m gone, now
Send in

The
Clowns!

In 1949 Sarah Vaughan with her manager and then-husband George Treadwell bought a three-story house at 21 Avon Avenue. Her parents, Asbury and Ada Vaughan, moved from her childhood home on Brunswick Street into the two lower floors, while she and Treadwell occupied the top floor. By then, however, touring and recording kept the singer away from Newark for extended periods.

“Lullaby of Avon Ave.” appeared in the 1996 collection Funk Lore and the Summer 1996 issue of Journal of New Jersey Poets.