We are the keepers of that steadfast light That guides a people’s course and destiny; Not ours the skill directing over the sea The mighty beams that blaze the path aright: Ours but the hands that, serving, keep it bright; The bringers of the oil, the workers we Who day long, without pause and faithfully, Toil that its radiance may pierce the night.
Above us are the wills that guide and turn; It is not ours to watch nor question these: Ours but to see each wick is trimmed and fit, Lest on a night of storm it fails to burn And a Great Ship goes down in awful seas. O Keepers of the light, keep faith with it!
This sonnet of World War I, by a Newark native, was first printed in the April 1918 issue of McClure’s Magazine.
There! against the sky Just at the hill-top Is the end of the world! Approach it slowly On this smooth wide road— Who knows what is on the other side? Startling it is how the road Leads to the hill-top And ends so boldly, clear, against the sky.
Alma Flagg’s enduring belief in Newark and its citizens marked the course of her life as an educator, civic leader and poet. Dr. Flagg concluded her journey on March 10, 2018. She was 99.
“View” was published in her 1981 collection Twenty more with thought and feeling.
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.
“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!”
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.
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!
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.
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.”