Library Way – Inspiration on the Streets of New York
The street on 41st Street between Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue in front of the main entrance to the New York Public Library is called Library Way, and it has a treasure trove of sidewalk plaques created by Greff LeFevre that have inspirational quotes from books and literature and people of historical significance on the sidewalk on both sides of the street. The design of each one is relevant to the quote on it, elevating the text on it.
They are set up for reading while walking towards the New York Public Library, and I always manage to find one or a couple that I have not read or fully absorbed before, which makes me want to walk past these often.
Here are the ones that I have taken photographs of, that I thought would make for a fun read here.
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626), “Of Studies”
Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.
William Styron (1925- ), Writers at Work
All things are words of some strange tongue, in thrall
To Someone, Something, who both day and night
Proceeds in endless gibberish to write
The history of the world. In that dark scrawl
Rome is set down, and Carthage, I, you, all,
And this my being which escapes me quite,
My anguished life that’s cryptic, recondite,
And garbled in the tongues of Babel’s fall.
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)
Truth exists, only falsehood has to be invented.
George Braque (1882-1963) Le Jour Et La Nuit
Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (A.D. 121-180), Meditations
Those of you, lost and yearning to be free,
who hear these words, take heart from me.
I was once in as many drafts as you.
But briefly, essentially, here I am….
Who touches this poem touches a woman.
Julia Alvarez (1950- ), “33”
Writing your name can lead to writing sentences. And the next thing you’ll be doing is writing paragraphs, and then books. And then you’ll be in as much trouble as I am!
Jerome Lawrence (1915-2004) and Robert E. Lee (1918-1994), The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail
Remarks are not literature.
Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
A poem doesn’t do everything for you.
You are supposed to go on with your thinking.
You are supposed to enrich
the other person’s poem with your extensions,
your uniquely personal understandings,
thus making the poem serve you.
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-), Song of Winnie
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Nature and art, being two different things, cannot be the same thing. Through art we express our conception of what nature is not.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Picasso on Art: A Selection of Views
they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
and i keep on remembering
Lucille Clifton (1936- ), “why some people be mad at me sometimes”
I love the old melodious lays
Which softly melt the ages through,
The songs of Spenser’s golden days,
Arcadian Sidney’s silver phrase,
Sprinkling on our noon of time with freshest morning dew.
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), “Proem”
If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), “The Leaning Tower”
I don’t know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.
E.B. White (1899-1985), “Letter to James Thurber”
…the reading of good books is like a conversation with the best men of past centuries—
René Descartes (1596-1650)
For all books are divisible into two classes, the books of the hour, and the books of all time. Mark this distinction—it is not one of quality only. It is not merely the bad book that does not last, and the good one that does. It is a distinction of species. There are good books for the hour, and good ones for all time; bad books for the hour, and bad ones for all time.
John Ruskin (1819-1900); Sesame and Lilies
The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.
Kate Chopin (1851-1904)
Now, on my heart’s page
there is no grid to guide my hand,
no character to trace,
only the moisture,
the ink blue dew
that has dripped from
To spread it I
can’t use a pen,
I can’t use a writing brush,
can only use my life’s
to make a single line of
marks worth puzzling over.
Gu Cheng (1956-1993), “Forever Parted: Graveyard”
Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), “In My Craft or Sullen Art”
Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.
Albert Camus (1913-1960), The Plague
The universe is made of stories, not atoms.
Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), “The Speed of Darkness”
The rose fades
and is renewed again
by its seed, naturally
save in the poem
shall it go
to suffer no diminution
of its splendor.
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), “Poem”
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I chose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), Through the Looking Glass: And What Alice Found There
Someone is reading in a deepening room
Where something happens, something that will come
To happen again, happening as many times
As she is reading in as many rooms.
What happens outside that calm like water braiding
Over green stone? The ones of little reading
Or who never read for love, are many places,
They are in the house of power, and many houses…
Robert Pinsky (1940- ), “Library Scene”
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), “The Day is Done”
…At the end of an hour we saw a far-away town sleeping in a valley by a winding river; and beyond it on a hill, a vast gray fortress, with towers and turrets, the first I had ever seen out of a picture.
“Bridgeport?” said I, pointing.
“Camelot,” said he.
Mark Twain (1835-1910), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
There was something about the vibrating empty rooms first thing in the morning — light falling through the great tall windows, the sun burning the smooth tops of the golden tables as if they had been freshly painted — that me restless with the need to grab up every book, press into every single mind right there on the open shelves.
Alfred Kazin (1915-1998), New York Jew
Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Walden
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
I want everybody to be smart. As smart as they can be. A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.
Garson Kanin (1912-1999), Born Yesterday
People work much in order to secure the future; I gave my mind much work and trouble, trying to secure the past.
Isak Dinesen (1885-1962), Shadows on the Grass
All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), “Old Newsman Writes”, Esquire, December 1934
There are words like Freedom
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heart-strings freedom sings
All day everyday.
There are words like Liberty
That almost make me cry.
If you had known what I knew
You would know why.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967), “Words like Freedom”
The knowledge of different literatures frees one from the tyranny of a few.
José Martí (1853-1895), on “Oscar Wilde”
In the reading room in the New York Public Library
All sorts of souls were bent over silence reading the past,
Or the present, or maybe it was the future, patrons
Devoted to silence and the flowering of the imagination…
Richard Eberhart (1904-2005), “Reading Room, The New York Public Library”
THE MIND IS AN ENCHANTING THING
is an enchanted thing
like the glaze on a
subdivided by sun
till the nettings are legion.
Marianne Moore (1889-1972), “THE MIND IS AN ENCHANTING THING”
Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.
Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997), Too Loud a Solitude
Information is light. Information, in itself, about anything, is light.
Tom Stoppard (1937- ), Night and Day