the smithy of god

by Clement Wood

Image: Newark Story
Image: Newark Story

          A CHANT


[A bold, masculine chant.]

I am Newark, forger of men,
Forger of men, forger of men–
Here at a smithy God wrought, and flung
Earthward, down to this rolling shore,
God’s mighty hammer I have swung,
With crushing blows that thunder and roar,
And delicate taps, whose echoes have rung
Softly to heaven and back again;
Here I labor, forging men.
Out of my smithy’s smouldering hole,
As I forge a body and mould a soul,
The jangling clangors ripplewise roll.

[The voice suggests the noises of the city.]

Clang, as a hundred thousand feet
Tap-tap-tap down the morning street,
And into the mills and factories pour,
Like a narrowed river’s breathing roar.

Clang, as two thousand whistles scream
Their seven-in-the-morning’s burst of steam,
Brass-throated Sirens, calling folk
To the perilous breakers of din and smoke.
Clang, as ten thousand vast machines
Pound and pound, in their pulsed routines,
Throbbing and stunning, with deafening beat,
The tiny humans lost at their feet.

Clang, and the whistle and whirr of trains,
Rattle of ships unleased of their chains,
Fire-gongs, horse-trucks’ jolts and jars,
Traffic-calls, milk-carts, droning cars . . .

[A softer strain.]

Clang, and a softer shiver of noise
As school-bells summon the girls and boys;
And a mellower tone, as the churches ring
A people’s reverent worshipping.

[Still more softly and drowsily, the last line whispered.]

Clang, and clang, and clang, and clang,
Till a hundred thousand tired feet
Drag-drag-drag down the evening street,
And gleaming the myriad street-lights hang;
The far night-noises dwindle and hush,
The city quiets its homing rush;
The stars glow forth with a silent sweep,
As hammer and hammered drowse asleep . . .
Softly I sing to heaven again,
I am Newark, forger of men,
Forger of men, forger of men.


[Antichorus, with restrained bitterness, and notes of wailing and sorrow.]

You are Newark, forger of men,
Forger of men, forger of men . . .
You take God’s children, and forge a race
Unhuman, exhibiting hardly a trace
Of Him and His loveliness in their face. . .
Counterfeiting his gold with brass,
Blanching the roses, scorching the grass,
Filling with hatred and greed the whole,
Shrivelling the body, withering the soul.

What have you done with the lift of youth,
As they bend in the mill, and bend in the mill?
Where have you hidden beauty and truth,
As they bend in the mill?

Where is the spirit seeking the sky,
As they stumble and fall, stumble and fall?
What is life, if the spirit die,
As they stumble and fall?

[With bitter resignation.]

Clang, and the strokes of your hammer grind
Body and spirit, courage and mind;
Smith of the devil, well may you be
Proud of your ghastly forgery;
Dare you to speak to heaven again,
Newark, Newark, forger of men,
Forger of men, forger of men?


[Beginning quietly, gathering certainty.]

I am Newark, forger of men,
Forger of men, forger of men.
Well I know that the metal must glow
With a scorching, searing heat;
Well I know that blood must flow,
And floods of sweat, and rivers of woe;
That underneath the beat
Of the hammer, the metal will writhe and toss;
That there will be much and much of loss
That has to be sacrificed,
Before I can forge body and soul
That can stand erect and perfect and whole
In the sight of Christ.

[Sadly and somberly.]

My hammer is numb to sorrows and aches,
My hammer is blind to the ruin it makes,
My hammer is deaf to shriek and cry
That ring till they startle water and sky.

And sometimes with me the vision dims
At the sight of bent backs and writhing limbs;
And sometimes I blindly err, and mistake
The perfect glory I must make.

[Rising to a song of exultant triumph.]

But still I labor and bend and toil,
Shaping anew the stuff I spoil;
And out of the smothering din and grime
I forge a city for all time:
A city beautiful and clean,
With wide sweet avenues of green,
With gracious homes and houses of trade,
Where souls as well as things are made.
I forge a people fit to dwell
Unscathed in the hottest heart of hell,
And fit to shine, erect and straight,
When we shall see His kingdom come
On earth, over all of Christendom,–
And I stand up, shining and great,
Lord of an unforeseen estate.
Then I will cry, and clearly then,
I am Newark, forger of men.

For Clement Wood, who relinquished a brief, checkered legal career in his native Alabama for a life of writing and teaching in New York, poetry was “the shaped expression of man’s desires,” and only achieved greatness when it expressed, “to the largest group of people over the longest stretch of time, their individual and collective wish-fulfillments.” (The Craft of Poetry, 19-20)

Wood claimed no such greatness for “The Smithy of God” but, of more than nine hundred submissions from forty-two states and five foreign countries, this poem most impressed the seven-judge panel of the 1916 Newark poetry competition: it won handily the first-place prize.

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