john cotton dana: two poems

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

JOHN COTTON DANA

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.

 

LIBERATOR

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.

fountain moved

by E. Alma Flagg

Image: Library of Congress
Image: Library of Congress

Years of my youth,
Long walks to the library,
Short stops in the five-and-ten.
Massive gray building,
Busy street corner,
Greatest street ever.
There was the fountain,
Endless clear water
For all thirsty travelers…
Cool, soothing water,
Treating my being
With refreshment through and through…
New buildings there now,
Old ones demolished–
Feet, take this body
To the Museum garden.
There is our fountain!

In 1903 sculptor Samuel Thornton fashioned a limestone fountain to adorn the headquarters of the Prudential Insurance Company at Broad and Bank Streets. In keeping with the overall design of architect George B. Post, Thornton employed forms of French Gothic architecture. When Prudential demolished this building in the 1950s to make way for a modern office tower, the landmark fountain was donated to the Newark Museum. It may be seen today in a corner of the Museum’s garden.

Alma Flagg’s poem was published in Feelings, Lines and Colors (1980).

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.

newark black: 1940-1954

by C. K. Williams

Vailsburg (Newark)

Black coal with a thunderous shush
plunging into the clearly evil-inhabited coal bin.
The black furnace into whose maw
you could feed paper to watch it curl to black char.

The hats women wore with black, mysterious veils,
even your mother. The “mascara” she’d apply
more meticulously than she did anything else.
With her black lashes she was almost somebody else.

The incomprehensible marks on blackboards at school
you conquered without knowing quite how.
The black ink in the inkwell. The metal pens
with blots that diabolically slid from their nibs.

Black slush, after the blizzard had passed
and the diesel buses and trucks were fuming again,
but you still remembered how blackly lovely
the branches of trees looked in new snow.

The gunk on the chain of your bike.
The black stuff always under your nails.
Where did it come from, how to get it out?
Even between your toes sometimes there was black.

The filthy tires hung on hooks in the garage-store
we had to pass through to get to our shul.
Black Book of Europe, first proof of the war on Jews—
illicit volume, as forbidden to Jewish children as porn.

Black people the states in the South began to send up,
keeping what they needed for cheap labor and maids
and exporting the rest: a stream of discarded humans,
with the manufacturing plants just then closing down.

The photo of black children in the ‘20s, frolicking
on the bench of the Lincoln statue by the courthouse.
I took the bus once to go sit in its lap, his lap:
how kind he looked, how surprisingly hard his bronze lap.

The other statue, Captive’s Choice, in a park:
the girl kidnapped by Indians who forgets she’s white,
then, “saved,” gives up Indian husband and children.
Who decided it should have been that, and there?

The first black kids in our school, fine with me,
because Clarence Murphy, sixteen in fourth grade,
stopped beating me up because I’d killed Christ
and raged instead with even more venom at them.

I was afraid of Clarence but not of black people,
except that day on the bus: the sweat-stench of men
who’d worked hard and not had time yet to change.
Though I already knew it was shameful, I fled.

“Blackballs” to keep Jews, Italians, and Irish,
then naturally blacks, out of the country clubs
in Maplewood and Montclair. The unfunny jokes
about signs on their gates: No Dogs, Niggers, or Jews.

Our gangster hero, Longie Zwillman, who had a black car;
so did our mayors—bought off, we were told by “interests.”
Irish, Italian, finally at last a black mayor:
all the bought-off ones with their Cadillacs of corruption.

Thick soot on the bricks of the mills by the tracks,
smoke billowing, then extinguished forever.
Rivers with rainbows of oil on their surface,
their beds eternally black venomous chemical sludge.

Miles of black turnpike and parkway pavement
scrolled out onto the soil of the no-longer farms.
You could speed now from one place to another
and not see the slums, the factories in broken-eyed ruin.

Everywhere ruin—did nobody see it arriving?
Urban flight, urban decay, shopping centers and malls,
the department stores downtown shuttered,
then small businesses, theaters, and the rest.

The finally unrecognizable city, done in by us all.
Only the ever benevolent Lincoln, unblackened
by time or pollution, emblem of promise and hope,
patiently waited, patiently waits.

Image: Bongiorno Productions via Newark Museum
Image: Bongiorno Productions via Newark Museum

C. K. Williams offered this remembrance of his Newark boyhood for the 2011 anthology New Jersey Noir edited by Joyce Carol Oates. He reissued it as “Newark Noir” in his own Writers Writing Dying (2014).

two songs for newark academy

Image: Wilson Farrand, A brief history of the Newark Academy
Image: Wilson Farrand, A brief history of the Newark Academy

                                        I

AMIDST the ranks who try by different ways,
        To purchase honours or to merit praise,
The GOD-LIKE MAN how rare! how few like YOU
        Disinterested paths to fame pursue?
You who lavish’d sums (the fruits of peace)
        To bless the present and succeeding race!
To sing your praise MY infant muse is weak,
        But what SHE cannot, let this fabric speak;
Yet deign t’ accept the tribute of my lay,
        For thanks is all a poet has to pay.
O may your labours with success be crown’d
        And NEWARK still for lit’rature renown’d,
So shall fair science bless our happy land,
        And in fame’s roll, your names immortal stand.

                                        II

To Thee, most holy and most high,
To Thee we tune our grateful praise;
Thy deeds proclaim a GOD is nigh,
DEEDS of renown and wondr’ous grace!

When doom’d to wear base Slavery’s chain,
Our Land convuls’d, our danger great;
Heav’n rais’d strong Pillars to maintain
Our Liberties in Church and State.

Religion sigh’d, and Learning mourn’d,
Their Temples ruin’d or defac’d;
When God our times in mercy turn’d,
New Temples rear’d, and Schools replac’d.

See Foes abash’d, abase their pride,
And lift no more a tow’ring head;
Lay menac’d plots of Rule aside,
And own their Powers which God hath made.

Pretended claims to Blood or Birth,
Can fix no Despot on our Throne;
God, the wise Sov’reign of the Earth,
To Man, the Rights of Man makes known.

What are the World’s wide Kingdoms, Isles,
And States, but Seats of Tyrant-Sway!
COLUMBIA, where Jehovah smiles,
Shine free–more glorious far than they.

Patriots and Peers support her Cause,
Culture and Arts enrich the Field;
Wisdom inspires our equal Laws,
And free-men pleas’d, obedience yield.

This Day conven’d, Harmonious Bands!
We found a new fair Science’ name;
Hence letter’d Youth, to foreign Lands
Shall sound their Country’s growing Fame!

        To Him whose Temple is all Space,
        Whose Altar, Earth, Sea, Skies!
        One Chorus let all Being raise
        All Nature’s Incense rise!

The first poem was recited – according to the New-York Journal or General Advertiser of January 12, 1775, where it appeared in print – to the trustees of Newark Academy by an unnamed student. The Academy’s original building on the upper commons (later named Washington Park) was burned during the Revolutionary War; it would be twelve years before the school reopened in a new location at Broad and Academy Streets.  The dedication of this structure (shown in the image above) was the occasion for the second piece, a hymn printed in Woods’s Newark Gazette on June 28, 1792.

During its long history the Academy moved two more times in Newark – to High and William Streets in 1857,  and First and Orange Streets in 1929 – before settling at its fifth and current home in suburban Livingston.

acrostics

Image: http://www.michaellenson.org/murals.html
Image: Michael Lenson

                                1666

Naiad and nymph in the forest are roaming;
Everglades echo their unearthly tread;
Weird are their songs and their forms in the gloaming;
Answering voices or shades of the dead.
Rudely the Indian ‘neath wigwam and bower
Kneels in submission to Ignorance-power.

                                1916

Newark is now in the vigor of manhood.
Eye of a Mentor, and brain of a State;
Wielding a sceptre that banishes clanhood,
And makes us all kith, and akin to the great.
Rugged the heights from whose summits this hour
Ken we the vision that Knowledge is power.

 

        No spot to which we roam,
        Either o’er land or foam,
        Will ever be like home.
        As home is the pole
        Round which love doth roll,
        Keeping steadfast the soul.

The anniversary acrostics, by William J. Marshall, appeared in The Newarker of August 1916. Augustus Watters included the third, by an unknown author, in his small book Poems, printed in Newark in 1892.

the shades of ivy hill, newark

by Ruth Holzer

Image: Manual of the Common Council, 1914
Image: Manual of the Common Council, 1914

Somewhere in the shadow
of the gutted poorhouse on the hill,
the fat lady still chops fried onions

and chicken liver in a scarred wooden bowl
while yammering at her husband
so all the neighbors can hear.

Down the street a deranged woman,
naked under her mink coat, escapes
again, chased by her guilt-filled daughter

into the yard of the widowed Neapolitan
sisters who continue impassively
tending their grapevines.

The foster mother in her big brick house
harbors another brood of thugs.
Even the crooked Russians are looking to get out.

In 1916 Newark’s inadequate almshouse on Elizabeth Avenue was replaced by a spacious complex at Ivy Hill, on the city’s western limits. In the 1950s the adjacent poor farm became the site of the Ivy Hill Apartments. The poorhouse buildings have since been demolished.

This piece appeared in the Journal of New Jersey Poets in 2010.

waverly avenue

by Betty H. Neals

Image: New York Public Library
Image: New York Public Library

Just a panorama
down a city street!
A wagon vendor
(the poor folk’s auctioneer),
odd children playing,
skipping here and there
on Waverly Avenue.

                          Small trade stores;
                          confectionaries;
                          grills displayed with meat
                          caked on the stick;
                          houses two by two;
                          a hybrid tree;
                          a beauty shop;
                          a funeral home
                          separated by the cobblestones.

When wagon wheels roll over broken cobblestones
the poor folk’s auctioneer’s low tones combine,
to make a music of their own:

                          “Apples red and sweet potatoes,
                          Collard greens and red tomatoes,
                          32, 16, 29, 2 ! 32, 16, 29, 2 !
                          Clip-pity clop, clip-pity clop,
                          Clip-pity clop, clip-pity clop.”
                          “16 cents per pound (to one)
                          29 cents two pounds (to one)
                          32 cents two pounds (to two)
                          What can Big Apple do for you?”
                          Clip-pity clop, clip-pity clop,
                          Clippity, clippity, clippity clop.

Just a panorama
down a city street!
A wagon vendor
(the poor folk’s auctioneer),
odd children playing,
skipping here and there
on Waverly Avenue.

                          Two children come
                          directly after school
                          ’bout twice a month.
                          Auctioneer comes by along about that time.
                          The two kids play some game about a line.
                          Two children pass the beauty shop.
                          Beautician glances up, but does not stop.
                          Pedantically, she mocks them at their game:
                          “‘A line unstepped upon brings wealth and fame.’
                          “There they come! Lord, look here!
                          Skipping over lines pass the auctioneer.
                          She’s grabbing on the rail, eh?
                          I think she’s kind of scared.
                          You watch and see. He’ll take her hand.
                          She’ll straighten up her head.

                          ’Bout the time the auctioneer’s through
                          they’ll be finished grieving, too.
                          Tell me they look around, then sign their name.
                          Then burst into tears, just all in vain.

                          “That sign above the door don’t seem to bother them.
                          Seems like they read it, ‘Funeral Home – Drop in.’
                          “… How old?… I think she’s eight… he’s ten.
                          “Lord, they sure have plenty folks to die, Ha!
                          I just don’t understand it! Why? Ha!
                          Seems like fear would make those children turn and run.
                          Can’t see how watching dead folks could be fun.”

Just a panorama
down a city street!
A wagon vendor
(the poor folk’s auctioneer),
odd children playing,
skipping here and there
on Waverly Avenue.

                          Clip-pity clop, clip-pity clop;
                          Auctioneer’s timing’s just like a clock.

                          The children close the door behind them.
                          They tiptoe down the stairs,
                          exchange a quick knowing smile,
                          dry their tears, continue their game.
                          “A line unstepped upon brings wealth and fame.”

                          The beautician, halfway looking through the glass,
                          throws her head back and laughs
                          puts down the curling iron,
                          hops with a shimmy
                          as if she saw that line:
                          “Tell you how I’d have played that game,
                          Just wealth, wealth, wealth!
                          No fame, fame, fame!”

                          The customers laughed and cheered.
                          And as the auctioneer appeared,
                          The horses tapped out, “clip-pity clop.”
                          The beautician yelled to him:
                          “Auctioneer, stop!”

                          Auctioneer sings:
                          “32, 16; 16, 1;
                          Everything is just about gone.

                          “Apples, Lady? Weigh them out and see.
                          They cost 29, you got 26, that makes minus three.”

                          “To make this bargain even,
                          Suppose I take out one.”
                          The auctioneer nods in agreement
                          as he yells out, “GONE!”
                          She handed him the apple.
                          The children go on playing.
                          When wagon wheels roll over broken cobblestones,
                          The poor folk’s auctioneer’s low tones,
                          combine to make a music of their own.

Just a panorama
down a city street!
A wagon vendor
(the poor folk’s auctioneer)
odd children playing,
skipping here and there
on Waverly Avenue.

This 1973 poem by Newark native Betty Neals appeared in her collection Move the Air. Waverly Avenue was renamed Muhammad Ali Avenue in 1978.

lines for decoration day

by Frederick H. Pilch

Image: Jordan Allen
Image: Jordan Allen

We meet to-day to decorate
        Our soldiers’ graves with flowers,
And vow their way to emulate
        Whenever danger lowers;
We gladly call their chieftains great,
        And welcome them with cheers,
For love of all who met dread Fate
        Like Union Volunteers.

In dark morass where mosses trail,–
        By bayous lone and still,–
In mountain pass where rainbows vail
        The limpid plunging rill,–
On quagmire’s crust, or arid plain,
        Afar from human tears,
Interred by dust and leaves and rain,
        Sleep Union Volunteers.

In barren sands along the shore
        Where ocean billows beat,
In forest lands where men no more
        In awful warfare meet,
On slopes remote where battles raged
        And warriors fought their peers,
With nought to note who were engaged,–
        Lie Union Volunteers.

They loved their soil, their homes, their wives,
        Their children, sweethearts, sires;–
Their honest toil brought quiet lives,
        And moderate desires;
With high resolve they said farewell
        To all that life endears,
Determined Treason to repel
        As Union Volunteers.

The few lie here,–the many there
        Still slumber where they fell,
Roses and clover blossoms fair
        And violets mark them well:
And though so far from home they lie
        We give them smiles and tears,
And honor with both shout and sigh
        Those Union Volunteers.

But as they bravely bled and died
        In agony and pain,
We say to-day with honest pride
        They did not die in vain;
For though the thinning legions go
        Adown the slope of years,
Freedom and Unity we owe
        To Union Volunteers.

Another generation bold
        Crowds on the stage of life.
To them the war’s a story told
        Of other people’s strife;
But in their hands our flag will fly
        Above all foes and fears,
On them our Nation can rely
        For Union Volunteers.

Six Civil War regiments were formed and trained at Camp Frelinghuysen, then an open field between the Morris Canal and Roseville Avenue. The first of these, the 13th New Jersey Infantry, left Newark on August 31, 1862, fought at Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and participated in the siege of Atlanta and the March to the Sea. The Volunteers of the 13th remained in the Union service until the war’s end.

Attorney Frederick Pilch published this poem in the 1882 compilation Homespun verses.

news

by Max J. Herzberg

A crow caws wildly in the nest-hung trees—
A distant farmer sowing grain he sees.

Two savages converse with gesturings—
Word of fat deer one to the other brings.

A nomad minstrel tells in lilting ditties
Of war and mighty deeds and far-off cities.

“The battle’s lost!” a blood-stained horseman calls
To a scared village. “Flee! Our country falls!”

A portly townsman reads in his gazette
Of earthquake, hanging, wedding, sale, and debt.

Today, electric messengers devour
All space with speed: time shrinks into an hour.

Today, the whole of mankind pays its dues
Of instantaneous, multifarious news.

Image: Library of Congress
Image: Library of Congress

On May 19, 1791, printer John Woods produced the inaugural issue of Woods’s Newark Gazette from his shop on Broad Street. In a ceremony on the same date in 1928, students of Central High School unveiled a bronze plaque outside the Hahne and Company department store, designating the site where the city’s first newspaper was born.

Max J. Herzberg, head of the English department at Central High and literary editor for the Newark Evening News, composed this poem for the plaque’s dedication. It was one of several poems read at the event and published in William Lewin‘s booklet A Story of New Jersey Journalism.