the dignity of labor

by Frederick H. Pilch

Image: Michael Lenson
Image: Michael Lenson

Would you see hard work with success encrowned?
With a thoughtful eye calmly look around;
Here, the busy brain and the horny hand
Bid their wondrous wares in a pageant stand,
And the maker’s thoughts higher still aspire
When the women smile and the men admire—
Work is ne’er too mean to be deftly done,—
’Tis a small reward that is lightly won.

In the blackest muck snowy lillies bloom,
And the sunrise springs from the darkest gloom;
In the grimy coal lurks the power of steam,
In the shapeless stone sleeps the sculptor’s dream,
From the dusty loom fairest fabrics come,
Fairy fancies flit through the workshop’s hum,
In the plater’s bath silv’ry sheen’s begot,
And the picture’s gloss in the varnish pot.

Labor loves its work when it works for love,
From the Tanner’s vat comes the bridal glove;
From the furnace flame comes the shining steel,
And the gleaming gold from the rouging wheel;
In the throes of toil perfect art is wrought,
Through the mire of ink flash the gems of thought.
Breath depends on bread formed of dust and leaven;
In the mint of Earth saints are coined for Heaven.

From the dust of earth God made humankind,
With the dust of earth Jesus cured the blind;
From the blended dust of the earthly mine
Men make magic work that’s almost divine.
Man, in doing work finds his true delight,
Labor speeds the day—toil brings rest at night;
When the world was formed out of darkness bleak
Great Jehovah wrought one eventful week.

For seven and a half weeks in the late summer and early fall of 1872, the Newark Industrial Exhibition showcased a bewildering array of products from astronomical clocks to saddlers’ tools, baseball bats to hat blocks, washing soap to wax fruit, tinware to underwear, all of it Newark-made. The first such exhibition held in this country, the event demonstrated not only Newark’s unparalleled manufacturing prowess but, in the words of former mayor Theodore Runyon, an “appreciation of the value and dignity of labor.”

The exhibition inspired Frederick Pilch to compose these lines, which were included in his Homespun Verses published in Newark in 1882.

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