helen of newark: two poems

Version 2
Image: Michael Lenson

On Helen of Newark

by “G. of New-Jersey”

                “The conquered thou dost conquer o’er again,
                Inflicting wound on wound!”

I did!–nor could I help it!–for her eye
        Fell on me, with love’s lightnings, and begot
A transport so unspeakable, that my
        Enraptured soul, of earthly things, knew not,
But felt as tho’ all nature had gone by,
        And it were fixt in a celestial spot,
Alone with some angelic being left,
And of all other thoughts than ecstasy, bereft!

O language! thou art beggarly and rude
        For such a strain as those bright eyes inspire!–
That hallow’d–nameless–wild beatitude
        Of all the soul can feel or can desire,
Which swallow’d up my being–and subdu’d
        All other faculties, needs words of fire!–
And I would give some years of painful care
To spend the rest of life with one so sweetly fair.

Frown if ye please, ye cold ones!–I aver
        From my heart’s knowledge, such delights have been;
And I care not how soon I may incur
        Your epithets–“extravagance and sin!”
But if there be one who can gaze on her
        And feel not the emotions start within
Which beauty’s loveliness and worth demand,
O may I ne’er esteem, nor take him by the hand!

Newark, Monday morning, June 5, 1820.



by “Village Minstrel”

I knew by her haughty contraction of brow,
        And the curl of her lip, that fair Helen was proud!–
And I said, though my heart must her beauties allow,
        ‘Tis pity a frown should such loveliness cloud.

‘Twas night–on her sofa she sweetly reclin’d;
        Its light o’er her features the chandelier threw;
All was still, save her ringlets that play’d in the wind,
        And her bright eye that roll’d in voluptuous blue!

O, heavens! I exclaim’d as enraptured I view’d–
        What angel of nature–of beauty is this?
If her mind be with equal enchantments endued,
        To call her my own, would be life’s richest bliss!

In the shade of retirement, how sweet to repose–
        To the world and its harrassing tumults unknown;
And to know that through life, undisturb’d to its close,
        Her heart–her affections–her charms were my own.

Yet I thought if these charms were but vainly display’d,
        To entrap the warm gaze with coquetish intent,
Their triumph was short–for they quickly would fade,
        And leave a reproach for their virtue misspent!

How fair–how exceedingly fair are some flowers,
        Which bloom but a day, and then wreck on the wind!
They return not again, though the night weep in showers,
        And they leave no memento–no fragrance behind!

But Heaven forbid that such fate should be thine,
        Thou loveliest one of life’s loveliest few!
O! fair as thy charms, may thy character shine–
        Thy smiles be sincere–thy affections be true!

Newark, Monday morning, August 20, 1821.

Written more than a year apart, these pieces were both published in the New-Jersey Eagle: the first on June 9, 1820, the second on August 24, 1821.

“G. of New-Jersey” was a sobriquet of Sylvester Graham, who would gain worldwide notoriety as the apostle of unbolted flour. The identity of “Village Minstrel” is unknown.

newark trees

Image: Mary Ann Reilly
Image: Mary Ann Reilly

The grand old trees of Newark,
        How royally they stand,
The splendor of their branches
        O’ershadowing the land.
I listen to their sighings,
        To catch each whispered word,
To me the sweetest music
        That ear has ever heard.

The summer is advancing,
        I hear his fervid tread,
But on the streets of Newark
        A benison is shed—
The blessing of the elm-trees,
        That murmur overhead.

What tales, oh trees of Newark,
        Your Delphic lips could tell!
What buds of sweet affection
        Beneath your foliage swell.
What troths have you heard plighted
        When, in the moonlit stroll,
Fair Juliet and her Romeo
        Have whispered soul to soul.

Oh, grand old trees of Newark,
        Your voice is in my heart,
And when your leaves are falling,
        The tears unbidden start.
Forever will remembrance
        Still garner with its sheaves
The glory of your arches,
        And the music of your leaves.

In its annual report for 1916 the city’s Shade Tree Commission counted 65,427 trees on the streets of Newark, almost half of which the Commission had itself planted since its creation in 1904. “Newark,” said late city historian Charles Cummings, “has always had a love affair with trees.”

The verses above are unattributed.  They were included by Augustus Watters in his volume Poems, published in Newark in 1892.

on spring

Image: Yong Hee Kim via The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Image: Yong Hee Kim via The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Hail welcome Spring, with all thy train,
Return and cheer our earth again;
And bid thy warmer gales to blow,
And thy refreshing show’rs to flow.
A short time since, a few weeks past,
Our streets were pav’d with icy glass,
And howling winds were hurl’d around,
With storm and rain we heard the sound;
All nature mourn’d her torpid state,
Enfetter’d by the hand of fate;
A dreary waste o’er cast with gloom,
Beset with tempest, rain and storm;
No ray of pleasure beam’d along,
No bleating flocks nor warbler’s song,
To soothe the rigour of the skies,
Or cause the peasant’s hope to rise.
But now rejoice, the scene is chang’d,
The warmer rays do shine again;
And lambs do bleat, while birds they sing,
All echo praise to welcome Spring
The neighing horse and lowing herd,
With eager steps bound to the mead;
Where Nature’s luxuries unfold,
Their stores of fatness for the world.
While sportive play their joys enhance,
They taste the rich luxuriance;
Forget the scanty winter store,
For plenty spreads the valley o’er.

This ode, signed simply “A., Newark, March 1801,” appeared in the Newark newspaper The Centinel of Freedom on the 31st of that month.

hibernia, moore and the muses

irish (1)
Image: Newark Public Library

When England’s blood-red lion spread
        Destruction through the land;
And vanquish’d freedom frighted fled,
        Before the tyrant’s hand;

The drooping harp Hibernia hung,
        In sorrow—for her fall,
Neglected, silent, and unstrung,
        In Tara’s lonely hall.

“Rest here, forlorn harp,” she said,
        “No hand thy sleep shall break;
No slave thy free-born fame shall wed,
        Or thy sweet strains awake.

On thee the light of beauty’s eyes,
        No more shall fondly beam,
Despondence dark and constant sighs,
        Shall crowd thy woe-fraught dream.

The sky shall be thy roof of blue,
        The dews thy tears of grief;
Thy shade the ivy’s dusky hue,
        Thy wreath the nightshade’s leaf.

Farewell, fond harp, we now must part,
        No more to hear thy songs,
Till Freedom’s voice shall rouse some heart,
        To vindicate thy wrongs.”

The muses, trembling, heard the vow,
        The weeping goddess made,
And straight to Tara’s verdant brow,
        The maids of music stray’d.

The awful mandate to revoke,
        The goddess they implore—
Her heart relented while they spoke,
        And gave her Harp to Moore.

Whether Dublin-born poet, entertainer, satirist and patriot Thomas Moore stopped in Newark on his 1804 American tour is unrecorded, but his compositions—especially the Irish Melodies—inspired countless local versifiers and songwriters. The anonymous ode above was printed in the Newark Daily Advertiser of August 15, 1832.