ode on the dedication of fairmount cemetery

by Henry William Herbert

Image: Old Newark
Image: Old Newark

This is God’s Acre–meted years ago,
While yet they battled with the tawny foe,
And laid the patriarchs of the forest low,
By those who first–where bright the waters gleam
Of reedy rimmed Passaic’s sylvan stream,
Or ere they broke the glebe, or turned the sod–
Planned in the wilderness a Church to God,
And set this mount apart, then forest-clad
And gay with leafy garniture, and glad
With countless blossoms.

                                        We, who fill the places
Whence long have passed their once familiar faces,
Though years have flown since they their work have done
And sleep, no more to greet the awakening sun,
What, in their poorness, they left half undone,
Would do of our abundance, which hath grown
Great from their small beginnings, and outflown
With giant wings, belike, the topmost bent
Of their aspirings. For if He have lent,
Who will not be forgot, nor doth forget
The talents He at interest hath set,
We would not be found unavailing quite,
Thankless and profitless, when comes the night,
And this world all departs with the departing light.

        This is God’s Acre!–So the Saxon phrase
Hallowed the place of graves, in those old days
When poetry was not a thing apart,
But breathing and alive in every heart.
God’s Acre–in it must the seed be strown,
The mourner’s seed, in dark corruption sown,
Which incorrupt shall grow, of mortal made
Immortal and Eterne. In it must fade
All sweetest flowers of earth, and in it lie
The germs of all, that ere it live must die–
The wheat, the tare, the fumitory rank,
The hellebore that taints the innocent bank
Of brightest blossoms. To it must go down
Alike the captive’s chain, the kingly crown,
The gracious odor of the good man’s worth,
The pomp heraldic of the great man’s birth,
The hero’s glory, that new worlds hath won,
The miser’s thrift, that hath himself undone,
The humble merit that did good by stealth
And nought assuming, gained eternal wealth.
The love, that loved not wisely, but too well,
The haughty strength by too much pride that fell,
And frailty’s penitence, and sin’s despair,
Wisdom, and intellect, and genius rare,
The bloom of beauty, valor of the brave,
Levelled, alike, and equal in the grave.

        God’s Acre–From it must the harvest grow
Ripe unto judgment, when the trump shall blow,
Startling the sleeper of ten thousand ages,
Opening the seals of the Apocalyptic pages,
Shrivelling the empyrean like a scroll,
Rending the solid globe from pole to pole,
What time, “the actions only of the just
Shall blossom into glory from the dust.”

        Let them sleep on ’till then, life’s fever o’er,
To work, to fold the hands, to weep no more,
Until awakened on the farther shore
Of Time’s spent ocean. Let no hand profane
Disturb the landmarks of their dread domain,
The kingdom of the awful dead–whom Death
Has hallowed, and secluded from all breath
Of praise or censure–which we consecrate
This day forever to their solemn state,
And sanctify to Him whose ends sublime
Are of Eternity and not of Time.
And may His eye, which ceaseless watch is keeping
O’er all, who live, and all beneath us sleeping,
So look upon us, while we linger here
’Mid scenes, though mournful, still to memory dear,
That when the work and weariness be o’er,
And the Dark Angel, halting at our door,
Summon us homeward, we may go to rest
With perfect hope and strong conviction blest,
And find the Peace, which none may understand,
And Love eternal in His Promised Land!

Through the late nineteenth century one could enter a monumental gate on Broad Street (seen in the photograph) and visit the final resting place of Newark’s first settlers. The Old Burying Ground was slowly erased through neglect and the encroachments of the burgeoning city. The remaining bones and tombstones were transferred to a crypt in Fairmount Cemetery in 1889.

English writer-in-exile Henry William Herbert composed the above verses for the opening of Fairmount Cemetery in 1855. In the melancholy isolation of The Cedars, a rustic dwelling he built overlooking the Passaic River, Herbert wrote popular works on horsemanship, hunting and other sports using the pen name Frank Forester. Eighteen years after his death by suicide, the Newark Herbert Association provided a marker for his grave in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, just south of where The Cedars once stood.

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