Monday, March 25, 2019

New York City: Poetry Under Your Feet

Annamaria on Monday

Of my favorite places on earth, the handiest and the most useful is the New York Public Library. It is just plain fabulous, and so important to my work that this is the final thank you of the Acknowledgements page in every book I write:

I do most of my research is NYPL's gorgeous Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on the corner of the two of the most famous streets in my home town: Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. It's a marble palace of free knowledge.

If you travel there - as I do - by taking the subway to Grand Central Station, you will approach the building from 41st Street,  the direction of the photo above.  As you walk along the sidewalk, you will find bronze plaques imbedded in the pavement.  The first one tells you why:

Walking at a brisk New Yorker’s pace, one has time—going along—to read only the first few words of each plaque.  As I walked along one day, I realized that the first lines from each plaque form a poem.  It's about words and writing.  Mostly it's about what the library itself is about.  BOOKS!!

Here is what the plaques look like:

(Note: I am sure, somewhere on the internet, one can see them in their pristine state, but I choose to show them the way they look now, after having been walked on, pelted with rain, and caked with ice for more than twenty years.  Also I wanted to put them in the order in which they appear on the sidewalk as you walk west along 41st Street, ending at the view of the library in the photo above.  It is the order I was following when I discovered the poem below.  But the numerical order nazis at Google Blogger have engineered (if you could call it that) their software never to deviate from their chosen order, whatever IT is.)

 Here it is the poem, punctuated by me--its Columbus.  Each line is exactly the first words of a plaque, cast in bronze,  East to west is the order.

Now, on my heart’s page--
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed.
There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating.
Not for the proud man apart. 
Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle.
The universe is made of stories, not atoms.
The rose fades and is renewed again.
When I use a word,
Someone is reading in a deepening room.
Information is light,
Then read from the treasured volume,
At the end of an hour,
There is something about the vibrating empty rooms.
Books are the treasured wealth.
I do not know which to prefer.
I want everybody to be smart.
People work much in order to secure the future
In the reading room of the New York Public Library.

All good books are alike.
There are words like FreedomSweet and wonderful.
(Silence) Vladimir: What do they say?

A poem doesn’t do everything for you,
When you are old and grey and full of sleep.

Where there is much desire to learn,
A word is dead When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live.
Nature and art, being two different things,
They ask me to remember.

I love the old melodious lays.

If you do not tell the truth,
I do not know which is more discouraging.

…the reading of good books is alike a conversation
For all books are divisible.
The bird that would soar,
Where the press is free,
hsirebbig ton si siht!

Writing your name can lead to writing sentences.
Those of you, lost and yearning,
Everything is only for a day.

Truth Exists; Only falsehood has to be invented.

All things are words.
…a great book should leave you with many experiences,
Because when I read,
The knowledge of different literatures frees.

I love those plaques under my feet as I walk.  I love the long and the short of what they say.  Mostly, I love books.


  1. Brilliant! I MUST do that walk one day. Slowly.

    1. Me too, Michael! Wonderful blog and pictures, Annamaria. And wonderful words, also.

  2. Z and M, I will gladly accompany each of you, take you on a tour of the library, and to lunch or dinner afterwards. Name the day!!!

  3. My office after I left Wall Street was on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street (NW corner) looking down on the Library, and when we moved to Third Avenue and 40th Street I often walked across town on 41st Street headed toward the Library. I always loved those plaques and wondered why the City didn't do such ingenious things elsewhere. My guess is, someone would have had to pay for it. Great piece, and thanks for the memories. See you tomorrow, sis.

  4. Bro, I arrive on Wednesday evening. Dinner?