the city of heritage

by Anna Blake Mezquida

Down where the swift Passaic
        Flows on to the placid bay,
Where the marshes stretch to the restless sea,
And the green hills cling in the mountain’s lee,
There the sad-eyed Lenni-Lenape
        Unchallenged held their sway.

Gentlest of all their neighbors,
        Proud race of the Delaware,
They lived in the land where their fathers dwelt,
They killed the game and they cured the pelt,
And marked the blue in the wampum belt—
        The purple and blue so rare.

When day tripped over the meadows
        Fresh as a maiden trim,
They skirted the trails where the black swamps lie,
They notched the cedars to guide them by,
And wandered free as the birds that fly
        Beyond the river’s rim.

But few were the moons that silvered
        The mountain’s hoary side,
When over the banks where the waters foam,
Over the fields where they loved to roam,
Into the heart of their forest home
        They watched the pale-face stride.

Unconquered, and loath to conquer,
        They hid the arrow and bow;
The mat was spread for the honored guest;
They hung bright beads on the stranger’s breast,
And mutely signing, they bade him rest
        Before the camp-fire’s glow.

The suns of a hundred noondays
        Blazed down on river and hill,
And the pale-face walked in the red-man’s land;
A pious, fearless and strong-souled band,
For home and for country they took their stand,
        And served God with a will.

Where the waters gleamed in splendor,
        And the meadows glistened green,
They founded a town with an English name;
Their sternness shielded it like a flame,
And woe to the creature of sloth or shame
        Who dared let himself be seen!

They founded the house of learning;
        They built them the place of trade;
They guarded their laws by the force of might—
The laws that they held as a free man’s right;
And first to pray, they were first to fight
        When foemen stood arrayed.

And staunch were their children’s children,
        Brave men of a stalwart breed,
Who fought for the land where their fathers fought,
And kept the faith that was dearly bought,
That a brother-man, in the shackles caught,
        Forever might he freed.

And into the growing city
        Poured German and Celt and Scot
All seeking the land of the sore-oppressed—
The land that all free-born souls had blest,
And put of their manhood’s brawny best
        Into the melting pot.
        .         .         .         .         .         .         . 

The moccasined feet have padded
        Into the silence vast,
And the smoke-stacks belch where the camp-fires glowed,
Yet the white man reaps what the red man sowed,
For the friendliness to the stranger showed
        Shall live while the town shall last.

Unfearing, true and sturdy,
        The Puritan left his mark;
Though he sleeps beneath the grassy sod,
Though a million feet o’er his bones have trod
Yet he leaves his faith and his love of God
        To light men through the dark.

The soldier’s battles are over;
        His deeds but a written page!
Now the living pass by his low green tent,
But the patriot fires of a young life spent,
And a country whole from a country rent
        He leaves to a future age.

The toiler that strove and builded,
        And into the furnace hurled
Not coals alone, but his hopes and dreams,
Has lighted a beacon that ever gleams,—
While ships that sail on a hundred streams
        Shall bear his gifts to the world.

Then rise to your heritage, Newark!
        It cannot be swept away
Like chaff by the sullen north winds blown,
Or barren seed that is lightly sown,
For out of the past has the present grown—
        The city men love today!

Image: Joseph Atkinson, The history of Newark, New Jersey (1878)
Image: Joseph Atkinson, The history of Newark, New Jersey (1878)

Anna Blake Mezquida produced poetry, short stories, plays, film scenarios, and newspaper and magazine pieces in her native San Francisco. This work won the second prize in Newark’s 1916 poetry competition.

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