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.
Folly and Complacency went singing through the dark, They paused before a window that showed a candle’s spark. “Come forth, come forth and join us or bid us entrance win!” “Nay, I’ve a wheel a-turning and I have wool to spin; Unless your hands may aid me ye shall not enter in.”
Folly and Complacency went singing through the night; They paused before a casement that showed a shining light. “Now bid us in, old Comrade, to revel until day!” “Nay, I’ve a sword to sharpen to keep a foe at bay; Unless your hands may aid me I speed you on your way.”
Oh, there are swords to sharpen and there is wool to spin, And woe betide the foolish ones who let these wastrels in! At the cost of a dulled sword a people may be sold; For lack of warmth a nation may perish in the cold, And unto us the reckoning and price thereof be told.
Folly and Complacency–on our heads be the sin If once our hands should slacken, our voices bid you in. While there’s a sword to sharpen, while there’s a wheel to turn, A word to say, a prayer to pray, a signal light to burn, God give us strength and wakefulness to match the wage we earn.
This World War I-era poem was first printed in the March 1918 issue of McClure’s Magazine.
War laid bugle to his lips, blew one blast–and then The seas answered him with ships, the earth with men.
Straight, Death caught his sickle up, called his reapers grim, Famine with his empty cup came after him.
Down the stairs of Paradise hastened angels three, Pity, and Self-Sacrifice, and Charity.
Where the curved, black sickles sweep, where pale Famine clings, Where gaunt women watch and weep, come these of wings.
When the red wrath perisheth, when the dulled swords fail, These three who have walked with Death–these shall prevail.
Hell bade all its millions rise; Paradise sends three; Pity, and Self-Sacrifice, and Charity.
Newark’s location on the Atlantic coast and its chemical and steel industries proved crucial to U.S. mobilization in the First World War. Wartime activities also profoundly transformed the city. Gazing into the future, a leading attorney commented that women involved in Red Cross work would no longer be content “to live lives of uselessness.”
Theodosia Garrison published this poem in the February 1918 Good Housekeeping magazine.
Babylon and Nineveh Ephesus and Tyre,— These were names to thrill us once, Seeing, as we read, Wall and gate and citadel, Golden dome and spire,— All the glory that youth sees O’er the dust and dead.
Cities of the lordly names: Sybaris, Damascus; Doubtless, too, their little lads Dreaming as we dreamed, Visioned older cities still, Far as ever theirs from us, Cities that their Grandsires built With words that glowed and gleamed.
Babylon and Nineveh, Troy Town and Rome, Little did we think one day, Until we wandered far, How dearer and more dreamed of The city of our home,— The commonplace, gray city Where yet our treasures are.
Bagdad and Carthage Sybaris, Damascus, Babylon and Nineveh, Troy Town and Rome: You may hold my fancy still, Great names and glorious; But O, my commonplace, gray town, ‘Tis here my heart comes home.
Newark native Theodosia Garrison served as a judge of the 1916 poetry competition. The resulting volume of Newark Anniversary Poems included this contribution.