john cotton dana: two poems

Image: Rutgers Magazine
Image: John Cotton Dana Library via Rutgers Magazine


by Lyman Whitney Allen

That is his portrait,—high bequest
        To our Museum’s hall.
The artist painted at his best
The one whose features well attest
        What mind and heart install.

There is no genius such as his
        Midst Newark’s throngs of men.
To him be praise for what he is,
And for his gracious ministries
        Past threescore years and ten.

His name and fame are heralded
        Where lore has reverence.
Courageous followers daily tread
Ascension paths his faith has led
        Soul’s triumph over sense.

He holds the keys of Learning’s doors
        To Wisdom’s House of Light.
He gathers Culture’s golden stores,
Interpreting the metaphors
        A city’s dreams incite.

His vision lured the princely gift
        Of a great merchant’s heart.
Fine natures, they together lift
The veils from Beauty, turn the drift
        Of wealth to calls of Art.

What streams of inspiration flow
        Out of his life’s survey!
’Neath healing shades they gently go,
While time can never overthrow
        The hopes along their way.

All hail to Newark’s honored Sage
        This five and twentieth year!
For him be long and mellowing age,
With vistas of earth’s heritage
        That comes from his career.



by Gerald Raftery

He hurled no ultimatum at the state
Nor led a revolution out to cry
An empty creed against the empty sky.
Nor ever did he play upon the hate
Of poor for rich, of ignorant for great.
And since his slow revolt was fine and high
For him no banners dip along the sky,
No cannons roar, no millions venerate.

His deed was not a sudden, blaring thing;
It was a lifework, patient, unacclaimed.
And now before the searching mind of youth
The serried thinkers of the ages fling
Their gold. This man made knowledge free, unchained;
He loosed the slow, invading tide of truth.


To John Cotton Dana, Newark’s great champion of democratic culture, the worth of poetry and the other arts lay in one’s own experience of them. The pioneering director of the city’s library and museum considered popular songs and jingles “good poetry to the thousands who read and love them.” Dana insisted on the presence of poetry “in life itself, in homely everyday relations, in passing sentiments,” whether or not it found expression in the written word. (The Newarker, July 1912)

Lyman Whitney Allen composed his tribute on seeing Douglas Volk’s portrait exhibited in the newly opened home of the Newark Museum. The museum building, paid for by businessman and philanthropist Louis Bamberger (“the princely gift / of a great merchant’s heart”), was dedicated in 1926. In the same year Dana turned 70—on August 19—and marked 25 years of service to the artistic and cultural life of his adopted city. Since 2009 Volk’s painting has been displayed in the Dana Room of the Dana Library, on the Newark campus of Rutgers University.

Allen’s poem was printed in the Newark Sunday Call of March 6, 1927. Gerald Raftery’s, one of many homages paid Dana after his death, appeared in the New York World on September 16, 1929, and in the Newark Evening News three days later.

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