the soul of the city

by Edward N. Teall

(Newark: 1666-1916)

Write a poem of Newark? I think you are mad!
What is there poetic in Newark?
For Pegasus, what has Newark but the pound?
Suppose Homer sang at the Four Corners!
Newark might pity his beard and blindness,
But as for his verse—Poof!

If a poet walked through Broad Street,
Newark would laugh at his long hair,
Newark would jeer and jibe,
And in the end kill him with disregard more cruel than scorn or the flung stone,
Or spew him out of the corporate urban mouth.

Write a poem of Newark?

Write a poem of the stomach ache,
A poem of a droning beehive!
Hammer out words to fit the strident cacophonies
Wrung by some exiled son of Italy
Out of a box on wheels
With wheezy bellows in its bowels
And the meter regulated by a handle on a crank shaft.

Would not that be the music of an American city?

Still! Milton wrote of a beehive,
“As when in Spring the sun with Taurus rides,”
You know those lines of limpid melody.
(John Milton was nobody’s fool—
When it came to smiting the lyre.)

Are humans less usable stuff
Of poetry than apis?

And others have spun music out of their inward pains,
Wrung vocal harmonies from physical discords—
And a stomach ache is not less a part
Of man’s grotesquely constituted being
Than are those maladies of soul
Whose treatment made the Tragedist of Avon great!

And a city of America
In this conglomerate era
Is a huge and writhing indigestion.

There must be poetry in it!
Celebrate the years of Newark?
What is a year, that number it,
Name it as we do the new baby,
Or Newark’s new hotel—
As Robert Treat had in a name
Identity distinct?

A year is so much growth?
So many new homes, new babies,
New methods in your mills,
So many sprouting tombstones in your graveyards,
So many new voices in your pulpits,
New faces (sealed with wax of hypocrite polite attention) in the pews;
So many new streets laid open
(Gashing and scarring the ancient hills and fertile fields)—
So many new names entered on the baptismal record (or the station-house blotter),
So many more minted dollars
In municipal coffers
(Or sidetracked into political pockets)—
So many suburbs ingurgitated?

But if the Founders could return,
We would read
In their city
A Poem!

The steel cars,
The tracks in the streets
And high powered, soft cushioned limousines, juggernauts of swift moving pleasure;
The crowds on the pave, some in haste
And some richer in leisure than purpose
And staring with insolence at their betters
Or idly in at the rich display in shop windows;
The little group of Salvation Army heroes;
Your markets, unresting, where consumer hunts
Like a Daniel Boone of the new time;
Your railroads, that bear from afar
The wheat and rich fruits to fill you,
And rough ores and lumber and leather
To glut greedy maws of machinery
Finishing wares to go back through the land,
Spreading the proclamation that goods
Made in Newark
Are best—
Your homes multitudinous,
Prosperous, happy,
Or clouded with pains of the body
Or shadows of sin in the soul—
Your turrets that gleam in the sun blaze,
Your offices, schoolrooms and bookrooms,
Hospital wards and museums,

Here is the stuff of your life!

Here are the sources deep hidden
Whence rills of influence issue
To merge with the current, broad bosomed and laden with argosies—
Not of commodity commerce only or mainly,
But deep draughted, hull full of Newark,
Weighted and freighted till Plimsoll marks vanish,
Immersed in life’s waters yet onwardly moving—
The stream of the Spirit of Newark,
Proclaiming her kin to the common,
Yet making her Newark, none other!

I say to you, seeing this vision,
That he who shall take up your challenge,
Having the soul of the poet—
He who shall see you just as you are
And clothe you splendidly in words,
Shall be filled with the breathing of music
And vibrantly utter
The soul that is in thee,
In Newark!

And ye have done well to hang harps in the wind.

Edward Teall’s entry in the 1916 poetry competition won a $50 prize. It was later published in The Newark Anniversary Poems.

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