newark bay

by H. G. Dwight

Image: Valerie Larko
Image: Valeri Larko

I have stood on the bluffs of Scutari
and watched the morning mists smoke out of the Golden Horn–
full of fairy ships and iridescent sails,
like a harbor of the Happy Isles.
And I have watched the pinnacles of Seraglio Point
prick up black and slim and strange as the Arabian Nights
against a sanguine sky.

I have wandered among the lonely pillars of the Parthenon,
and wondered how those Greeks of long ago made them so simple and so noble,
and how even so many suns could turn them into amber,
and how the antique drama of the day
looked between them as if I had never seen it before,
ending above the Bay of Salamis–
Was it a triumph? Was it a tragedy?–
in an unearthly fume of gold and violet.

I have sat in the ruined theatre at Taormina,
where mask and buskin mime no more,
but where a scene is set immortal in the world
of the jewel-blue Ionian Sea,
and the far-off opal mountains of Calabria,
and the lovely line of the Sicilian coast,
with its lacy ruffle of foam,
and the Sicilian hills,
bare and dark and grave, yet secretly aflame with oleander,
and the white town sitting on its high shelf of rock in the sun,
and little Mola aloft on her crag like a castle in a fairy story,
and supreme over all, hanging between blue and blue in a shimmer of silver,
the enchanted cone of Ætna.

I have climbed the North Cape,
into an Arctic wind you could not stand against,
into an Arctic fog swirling like a madman’s brain.
The wind tore terrifying chasms in the fog,
and through them dropped splinters of a lost midnight sun,
or through them, out of a void of thunder,
the spray of melted icebergs
spouted up chimneys of black rock.
It made me ashamed of the crowded shelter hut,
where tourists giggled into the spray of champagne
or scribbled picture postcards.

But I like Newark Bay.
You don’t know where it is unless you are a Jersey commuter!
And no cliffs encircle it.
No famous cities lend it a little of their renown.
No beautiful buildings are reflected in it.
No typhoon ever tore it out of its bed.
Nor is the color of it very wonderful.

Never mind.
It has a wonderful way of catching color from the sun.
It has a wonderful way of rippling under the moon.
It has a wonderful way of darkling to infinity,
of somehow expressing what you feel when you rumble across it at midnight,
Tired and happy and unhappy and exalted after listening to violins.
And you should see the gold that twinkles around it in the dark,
that spatters it when the factories are alight.

I like the long lines of the chimneys, too,
and the smoke that flutters from them on the wind.
I like the barges that puff up and down from nowhere to nowhere,
on errands strange as any Indian patamar.
At night they give you such a friendly wink of a green eye!
I like the visions of hill-towns you catch from it on a clear day.
I like the black bridges that wade across it,
and the trains that slide so smoothly over them,
all day and all night, in a blur of black or gold–
and the sense of its loneliness,
and of so many million interwoven destinies that shuttle to and fro
and leave it lonely again.
I like those great beds of reeds that border it,
humble and green and alive to every whim of the air.
I like those little straggling wooden piers
and flat-bottomed boats at leash under a certain factory.
They always make me think of a certain palace on the Grand Canal,
a palace of delicate marbles carved long before factories or bridges came to Newark Bay,
in which a princess lives.
But she would not be a princess,
nor would she live in that palace,
if it were not for that factory on Newark Bay.
How ingenious some people are!
And how many ways there are of achieving palaces on the Grand Canal!
And I can manufacture nothing more ingenious than verses,
and they will never achieve me a palace on the Grand Canal!

Never mind.
I like a certain corner in Newark Bay
where a little inlet runs out beside a bridge.
On the shore some signboards make a fantastic splash of color
as you flash past them on the train.
Through the water marches a file of piles,
with restless green reflections fastened to them.
And shore and water meet each other so intimately,
in such an undulating line!
I will stand up for that line, even after the coast of Sicily.
I wish I could etch the grace and the humor and the subtlety of that line.
And beyond it the bay opens under the sky,
wide and pale as a Venetian lagoon.
And far away, high and white and incredible as the other world,
glimmers a tower in New York.

Born and schooled in Ottoman Turkey where his father was a missionary, Harrison Griswold Dwight used his extensive knowledge of the Near East serving in the diplomatic corps and writing fiction and non-fiction.

“Newark Bay” was featured in the September 1916 Atlantic Monthly.

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