A Homestead Poem Takes an Unexpected Journey

Poe Solomon (1887-1940) was the eldest of four brothers who made up M. Solomon & Sons, a Baltimore-based clothing manufacturing and retailing business. The firm’s Homestead branch opened around 1918 and lasted through the mid-1950s.

The Daily Messenger, April 9, 1925

Poe and his youngest brother Morris (1892-1940) joined the army during World War I. Neither went overseas. Morris served in the Quartermaster Corps, a common assignment for Jewish men in the clothing business. Poe began in the Infantry, but illness kept him stateside. When he recovered, he joined the Medical Corps. His obituary later related, “It was while he was in the army that he began to write verse, which was published in army publications, newspapers and magazines.”

Though neither had the opportunity for brave heroics in battle, their immigrant father, Max, was very proud of them, and because of his pride I can tell you this story. You see, Poe’s poems disappeared. But when the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Welfare Board put out the call for Jewish soldiers to submit the details of their service “as a contribution to American and Jewish history,” Max filled out the forms on behalf of his sons. And with the forms, he enclosed a letter about his son’s poetry, along with the only two copies of Poe’s poems that I can find.

Max Solomon’s letter to the Office of Jewish War Records

“The Silver Chevron” praises the men at the army hospital with whom Poe served. It begins:

Valorous sons of Liberty
Altho you did not cross the sea,
The aid you lend to the very end,
Bro’t us Peace with Victory

“Beyond Verdun” Poe wrote in tribute to his friend Zadoc Morton Katz (1890-1918). Three years Poe’s junior, Morton was a member of another successful family clothing business in Baltimore. He was killed in action on September 27, 1918 at the start of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive while on a reconnoitering expedition in no man’s land. His friends recalled him as “a man of extraordinary ability and character, a fearless soldier and one of the most beloved of men in his regiment.”

“Beyond Verdun” considers Morton’s sacrifice from a Jewish perspective. Poe wrote the poem in answer to the war’s most famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.” To the indelible image, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row,” he reminds us:

And now and then there is a Zion
Atop a grave the same as thine
And, like the crosses, spread their rays
To all the earth in many ways

PVT 1CL Zadoc Morton Katz’s marker in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France, a lone Star of David in a sea of crosses.

 

The copy of “Beyond Verdun” that Poe’s father sent to the Office of Jewish War Records.

Thanks to Poe’s father, I found this poem almost a century after Poe wrote it. Last year, I shared it on Facebook for Veterans Day. A great discussion ensued. Local historian Susan Morris and genealogist Lara Diamond filled in Morton’s biography. Rabbi Daniel Yolkut pointed out that the Hebrew word “Zion” is traditionally used to refer to a grave marker—would Poe have known that?

But one friend took it a step further. Razelle Weinstein, a teacher in Israel, got Poe’s poem approved for inclusion in the English literature module of the Bagrut, Israel’s graduation exam. Thanks to her, Israeli students will have the opportunity to read and reflect on Poe’s imagery. Morton’s name and his sacrifice, Poe’s name and his poetry—all will live on in the memory of the Jewish people.

In noble Israel this bit’s enhanced
By Homestead’s son, beyond Verdun

  9 comments for “A Homestead Poem Takes an Unexpected Journey

  1. Bonnie M Wind
    December 19, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    Song of an American by Poe Solomon 1918

    “I’m going to help,
    I’m going to help,
    To make the whole world free.
    I have a suit of tan on me,
    Now let me cross the sea.

    With vim and grit,
    I’ll do my bit!
    Long live democracy!
    March on, march on,
    On to victory…
    And make the whole world free.”

  2. Bonnie M Wind
    December 19, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    Courage by Poe Solomon

    With God you stand
    In sight of land –
    “Lay on, lay on, lay on.”
    Swords downed by pen, then,
    Only then,
    Earth’s
    Natal day
    Will come.

  3. Bonnie M Wind
    December 19, 2020 at 3:29 pm

    The Silver Chevron by Poe Solomon
    written for the personnel of the US Army Base Hospital, Ft. Mead, MD

    Valorous sons of Liberty,
    Altho you did not cross the sea,
    The aid you lend to the very end,
    Bro’t us Peace with Victory.

    Thousands of miles from battle’s roar,
    Thousands of miles from glory’s war,
    Graves newly made, tell of pals who paid
    For the glorious part of the strife they bore.

    Take your share in the tyrant’s fall,
    There is glory enough for all,
    The earth forlorn, is an earth reborn,
    Sons of Liberty answered her call.

    Hold up your head, each of you,
    Men of Mercy, tried and true,
    Give feeling to mirth, all’s well on earth,
    Democracy’s battles are thru.

    “For when history’s rightly told,
    SILVER CHEVRON’S good as Gold.”

  4. Bonnie M Wind
    December 19, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    Bulwark of Peach by Poe Solomon

    We are the dead,
    The bulwark of peace
    Until eternity,
    We gave youth, love, aside
    We shall be ever memory’s guide
    To those who love us,
    For we died that despots all
    Shall cast no pall
    Over eternity.

    Give ears to our words, ye
    Who hold the Nation’s destiny,
    We died that Peace shall forever be,
    Let none enter here on war’s sodden bier
    For all eternity.

    For those we loved and yours we bled
    Ye can’t break faith with us, the dead.
    “Bulwark of Peace until Eternity.”

  5. Bonnie M Wind
    December 19, 2020 at 3:39 pm

    Vision by Poe Solomon

    Pity those who never see,
    Oceans rolling through a tree;

    Or from some dungeon, dark and deep
    Watching myriads of sheep.

    They can be pitied who will look
    Yet never see the winding brook
    Nor hear it singing through a book.

  6. Bonnie M Wind
    December 19, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    ‘Tis Night – ‘Tis Morn by Poe Solomon

    THE OWL amidst the death-like
    stillness of the night, throws back its head
    and breaks the haunting silence
    with its shrill, but ECHO answers back;
    the day is dead.

    THE MOON puts shrouds upon the
    dying waves, that struggle on to death toward the shore,
    the night birds, so like vulcans,
    ask for LIFE; but ECHO answers back;
    there is no more.

    A SILVER STREAK appears now in the
    EAST, a halo seems to meet the coming DAWN,
    sweet singers of the forest bid you
    rise and ECHO first to say;
    the night is gone.

    JOY comes now when the day is in
    the bud, YOUTH goes forth to meet the day NEW-BORN,
    LIGHT whispers; behold the night is DEAD,
    and ECHO answers;
    LONG LIVE THE MORN.

  7. Bonnie M Wind
    December 19, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    Moon by Poe Solomon

    We’ll worship at the shrine of the moon, just you and I,
    And watch the bay dance its silver tune, you and I,
    Caress the breeze, soulful and gay,
    Before the birth of another day,
    Just you and I.

    There on the beach that meets the sea, just you and I,
    Dear words will return to me for you, and I
    Will whisper to you sweet and low,
    Where heavens calmest waters flow
    For you and I.

  8. Bonnie M Wind
    December 19, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    I Love to See! by Poe Solomon

    I love to see the crest of waves
    Upon the ocean blue
    I love to see the winged boats race
    Their courses straight and true.

    I love to see the sun aglow
    Depart within the west
    I love to see the spread of dusk
    When singers take to rest.

    I love to see the early star
    That marks the evening’s birth
    I love to see the moon arise
    And cool sweet mother earth.

    I love to lie in sweet repose
    And listen to the rain
    I love to read some singer’s verse
    Again, again, again.

    I love to hear the violin
    To which my soul doth thrill
    I love to see sweet nurses
    Attending to the ill.

    I love to see the flowers
    Kissing the morning dew
    I love to see the rising sun
    Clothed in its radiant hue.

    I love majestic mountains
    Reaching toward the sky
    I love to watch them heavenward
    And feel that I am nigh.

  9. Bonnie M Wind
    December 19, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    No! No! by Poe Solomon

    Can a spark of wrath within the soul
    For thousands of years and more
    Kindle its fire, hearken to Mars
    And gladly turn to war?

    Can peace slumber within the soul
    For thousands of years and more
    Assume such a trait, hearken to hate
    And gladly enter war?

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