We are the keepers of that steadfast light That guides a people’s course and destiny; Not ours the skill directing over the sea The mighty beams that blaze the path aright: Ours but the hands that, serving, keep it bright; The bringers of the oil, the workers we Who day long, without pause and faithfully, Toil that its radiance may pierce the night.
Above us are the wills that guide and turn; It is not ours to watch nor question these: Ours but to see each wick is trimmed and fit, Lest on a night of storm it fails to burn And a Great Ship goes down in awful seas. O Keepers of the light, keep faith with it!
This sonnet of World War I, by a Newark native, was first printed in the April 1918 issue of McClure’s Magazine.
There! against the sky Just at the hill-top Is the end of the world! Approach it slowly On this smooth wide road— Who knows what is on the other side? Startling it is how the road Leads to the hill-top And ends so boldly, clear, against the sky.
Alma Flagg’s enduring belief in Newark and its citizens marked the course of her life as an educator, civic leader and poet. Dr. Flagg concluded her journey on March 10, 2018. She was 99.
“View” was published in her 1981 collection Twenty more with thought and feeling.
Yes, Newark, praise them well!—the first to tread The river shore where stands thy busy town. They followed where the shining Vision led, From pride and persecution bravely fled, And laid thy deep and firm foundation down.
From out a rough and jealous wilderness, Praying, they fashioned homes for babe and wife. In deprivation, loving God no less, They lived such lives as He their Lord should bless, And, living nobly, gave thee noble life.
They loved thee well, thy Founder Pioneers, Those earnest, faithful women, fearless men; To build thee true they spent their toil, their tears; And now in these their city’s golden years, Listen! Their spirits call to thee again.
“O Town of ours, proud of thy centuries, What folk are these who lift, and build, and mine— What strange, new, striving multitudes are these Amid thy maze where stood our wildwood trees? Behold, they, too, are Pioneers of thine!
“By Vision led, these other Pilgrim bands Come now to thee in hope, as once came we. They flee the fettered and the failing lands To proffer toil of eager heart and hands For life, and homes, and manly liberty.
“Their faith in thee is great as ours of old; Within thy gates they see a shelter sure, A welcome refuge and a friendly fold Where each his right to happiness may hold, May seek and find the peace that shall endure.
“Their struggles are as ours, O Newark Town! They are the Pioneers of times to be; And God all-wise, from Heaven looking down, Well knoweth He the virtue, the renown, The honor they and theirs shall bring to thee.
“Beloved City, in thy golden years Wouldst thou a debt of gratitude repay For any toil of ours, for any tears? Be kind to these thy newest Pioneers Who come to build thee glorious today!”
So speak the Founders, and are heard no more. But hark!—up from the wilderness of walls A joyous voice, deep as the ocean’s roar! In answer to the Pioneers of yore The Spirit of the living city calls:
“Strong heart, stout arm, and willing, eager hand, These are my pride as in the Founders’ day. Firm in the faith of honest toil I stand And sound my challenge forth to every land, And will till earth and time shall pass away!
“Fear not! My yoke shall set my children free. For me their might of arm and heart and nerve Shall bless the nations to the furthest sea; And all my wealth of happiness shall be For these new souls who come to help me serve!”
The number of Newarkers exploded in the decades before and after 1900. Met by a flood of newcomers from eastern and southern Europe, census enumerators in 1890, 1900 and 1910 found that Newark’s population had swollen by 33, 35 and 41 percent respectively over the counts of ten years before. A 1909 tally revealed that three-quarters of the city’s residents were immigrants or children of immigrants.
The pressure of this human tide was felt in every facet of life, from education to public health to policing to politics. Anti-immigrant sentiment flared occasionally in the press and the streets. But the city economy, dependent on a cheap and plentiful labor supply, successfully absorbed and helped to assimilate generation after generation of new arrivals.
This poem appeared in the Newark Evening News on the eve of Thanksgiving Day 1916.
In the cold coals of dull disappointments I grow fresh wings to soar in hope again.
From still-smoking embers of total defeats I come forth to build a new city.
I am the Phoenix— not a bird from half-forgotten legend but Everyman who loves hopes builds!
Until the night of Wednesday, July 12, 1967, it was hoped and widely believed that the civil disorders afflicting other cities would leave Newark unscathed. What Life magazine would later call “the predictable insurrection” wrought deep wounds in the fabric of the Central Ward, with a loss of lives and livelihoods out of all proportion to Newark’s size. It also impelled a reconsideration of the kind of city Newark was to be.
Artist and poet Margaret Tsuda, a recent arrival in 1967, was one of the many who stayed and joined their futures to the city’s own. Her poem appeared in the Christian Science Monitor of January 20, 1971, and in the collection Cry Love Aloud.
A sad’ning sound’s in the troubl’d air That fans the western main— Britannia mourns in fix’d despair, Her bravest heroes slain.
Her honor gone, her banners torn, And trampled in the dust; The dauntless few who brav’d her scorn Have proved their cause was just.
The din of war has died away, And foemen sheathe the sword; Columbia spurns despotic sway, She owns no foreign lord.
Thanks to our sires who nobly dar’d Oppression’s iron front, And the free rights of man declar’d, E’en in the battle’s brunt,
Who drew the sword but to oppose Stern arbitrary laws, Nor sheath’d it till fair freedom rose And crown’d the glorious cause.
Let not the aged sire bewail His son, the prop of age; He fought his country’s foes to quell And tame their vengeful rage.
Mourn not, ye weeping widow’d train, A husband’s timeless call; Freedom forbids you to complain— See! freedom decks their fall.
Mourn not, ye noble orphan band, A brave departed sire; The glory of your native land Lights up their fun’ral pyre.
Blest be the mem’ry of the brave, Who in the conflict died; Each nobly sought a freeman’s grave, When freedom was deny’d.
Oh, may the rights for which they strove Endure thro’ lasting time; May union, liberty and love Long bless this happy clime.
There’s sound of gladness and of joy, And heaven-ward pealing strains, Of praise and thanks to God on high, Who broke the despot’s chains;
Who rent their galling yoke in twain, And snapt their iron goad; Who eas’d the burden of their pain And laid aside their load:
Gave the lone orphan child a sire And calm’d the mourner’s wo; Bade desolating war expire, And peace and joy to flow.
Columbians, venerate the name, The all comprising will, Which ever was and is the same, The kind dispenser still
Of every good and every bliss Which men on earth enjoy; Almighty sov’reign of the world, Jehovah the most high.
The Camp Homestead (pictured) is considered one of Newark’s great lost landmarks. Located at the present intersection of Broad and Camp Streets, it was the dwelling of Captain Nathaniel Camp, whom legend says General George Washington charged with defending the town during a visit there in 1777. The home is thought to have stood into the 1850s.
The above verses appear in a small volume issued in Newark in 1831, called The Aspect of the Times: A Political Poem, and Other Pieces. The title work is an unapologetic denunciation of Indian land claims (a vexatious issue of the times) and of “those, who continue, without regard to honor or truth, to blast and defame the real well-wishers of the Union.” The unidentified author despaired of changing anyone’s opinion, saying, “I fear, the case is hopeless.”
It’s a cheerless, lonesome evening, When the soaking, sodden ground Will not echo to the footfall Of the sentinel’s dull round.
God’s blue star-spangled banner To-night is not unfurled, Surely He has not deserted This weary, warring world.
I peer into the darkness, And the crowding fancies come, The night wind blowing northward Carries all my heart towards home.
For I ’listed in this army, Not exactly to my mind, But my country called for helpers, And I couldn’t stay behind.
So I’ve had a sight of drilling, And have roughed it many ways, And death has nearly had me, Yet I think the service pays.
It’s a blessed sort of feeling, That though you live or die, You have helped your grand old country, And fought right loyally.
But I can’t help thinking sometimes, When a wet day’s leisure comes, That I hear the old home voices Talking louder than the drums.
And the far, familiar faces Peep in at the tent door, And the little children’s footsteps Go pit-pat on the floor.
I can’t help thinking, some how, Of what the parson reads, All about that other warfare, Which every true man leads.
And wife, dear-hearted creature, Seems saying in my ear, “I’d rather have you in those ranks Than to see you brigadier.”
I call myself a brave man, But in my heart I lie; For my country and her honor I am fiercely free to die.
But when the Lord, who gave me, Asks for my service here, To fight the good fight faithfully, I’m slacking in the rear.
And yet I know this Captain All love and care to be, He would never get impatient, With a weak recruit like me.
And I know He’d not forget me When the day of peace appears; I should share with Him the victory Of all His volunteers.
And it’s kind of cheerful thinking, Beside the dull tent fire, About that big promotion, When He says, “Come up higher.”
For I seem to see Him waiting, Where a gathered army meets; A great victorious army, Surging up the golden streets.
And I hear Him read the roll call, And my heart is beating fast, When the dear Recording Angel Writes down my happy name.
But the fire is dead white ashes, And the tent is chilling cold, And I’m playing with the battle, When I have never been enrolled.
A year and a day from America’s official entry into World War I, the Newark Sunday Call published selections, “from among the best,” of “a barrage fire of verse” received from local men under arms. The editors on April 7, 1918, observed that “the great mass of verse produced since the inception of the world war is one of the most interesting phases of its development.”
Poet A. M. Smith was one of the 20,876 service members from Newark thought to have taken part in the conflict. A list of their names took seven years to compile; it was laid in a vault beneath the monument Planting the Standard of Democracy by Charles Henry Niehaus, which stands in Lincoln Park.
I used to walk past Sassy’s crib a couple times a week, when young
And each time say, “That’s Where Sarah Vaughn lives.”
That was when Symphony Sid used to call her, “The Divine One,” Late nights, from hip Bird Land
Oh man, what a feeling that was Divine & so hip & so very beautiful.
The house is gone now Symphony Sid too
As for the town, now Sassy told us just before she split
I’m gone, now Send in
In 1949 Sarah Vaughan with her manager and then-husband George Treadwell bought a three-story house at 21 Avon Avenue. Her parents, Asbury and Ada Vaughan, moved from her childhood home on Brunswick Street into the two lower floors, while she and Treadwell occupied the top floor. By then, however, touring and recording kept the singer away from Newark for extended periods.
“Lullaby of Avon Ave.” appeared in the 1996 collection Funk Lore and the Summer 1996 issue of Journal of New Jersey Poets.
I do not think this love will last till Spring, It was in wombs and tombs and cellars carved And trained, like Ivy, on dank walls to cling, Lacing two souls that had been too long starved. Excluding air and sun and wind and rain, Bent on destroying someone’s muttered curse, We tightly plaited dammed-up dreams with pain And now the ebb-tide wills us wounds to nurse. The year’s first crocus will be our death knell; The song of the first robin will incite The thawing, waxing, sunlight to repel A love that cannot turn away from night.
Poet and playwright Hazel Crawley was born in Newark and served in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. These lines are from her 1975 collection Erratica.