A blog post each day is hard work, especially with my self-imposed 9pm bed time, and already I have fallen a day behind. But weekends are for catch up.
The docent training has taken over my life. There are worse things, like drug or alcohol or sex or gambling addictions. Even politics, the obsession with it, can eat away at all one’s waking moments and energies. So a bit of architecture and statuary and painting can’t be so bad.
The walls are full of quotes selected jointly by the Librarian, Ainsworth Spofford, and the president of Harvard University, Charles Eliot. The quotes appear, we are told, without attribution, as a sort of pedagogical device for visitors to the library to look up later. Several quotes are extracted from a poem by Adelaide Anne Proctor I’d like to share here:
Dwells within the soul of every Artist
More than all his effort can express;
And he knows the best remains unuttered
Sighing at what we call his success.
Vainly he may strive; he dare not tell us
All the sacred mysteries of the skies;
Vainly he may strive, the deepest beauty
Cannot be unveiled to mortal eyes.
And the more devoutly that he listens,
And the holier message that is sent,
Still the more his soul must struggle vainly,
Bowed beneath a noble discontent.
No great Thinker ever lived and taught you
All the wonder that his soul received;
No true Painter ever set on canvas
All the glorious vision he conceived.
No Musician ever held your spirit
Charmed and bound in his melodious chains,
But be sure he heard, and strove to render,
Feeble echoes of celestial strains.
No real Poet ever wove in numbers
All his dream; but the diviner part,
Hidden from all the world, spake to him only
In the voiceless silence of his heart.
So with Love: for Love and Art united
Are twin mysteries; different, yet the same:
Poor indeed would be the love of any
Who could find its full and perfect name.
Love may strive, but vain is the endeavor
All its boundless riches to unfold;
Still its tenderest, truest secret lingers
Ever in its deepest depths untold.
Things of Time have voices: speak and perish.
Art and Love speak; but their words must be
Like sighings of illimitable forests,
And waves of an unfathomable sea.
In the first year of its opening, the Librarian of Congress, John Russell Young, received a letter from one of the library’s patrons about hiring a young Paul Lawrence Dunbar from Ohio. Dunbar was hired and assigned to shelve and retrieve science and medical books and materials for researchers. By all accounts, Dunbar hated the work, pulling dry books out of iron shelves in dusty stacks, none of which helped the tuberculosis he had suffered with in his youth. Two years later, he resigned from the position to spend more time on his literary work, even though the salary he received was higher than what he might have earned teaching English in high school. He published the following poem written during the period of his employment:
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals –
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting –
I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, –
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings!
Too bad excerpts from this poem don’t adorn the library walls. But its lines made their way several years later into the title of Maya Angelou’s autobiography. That is a consolation. Read the whole story here.