The Boston Athenaeum
Thou dear and well-loved haunt of happy hours,
How often in some distant gallery,
Gained by a little painful spiral stair,
Far from the halls and corridors where throng
The crowd of casual readers, have I passed
Long, peaceful hours seated on the floor
Of some retired nook, all lined with books,
Where reverie and quiet reign supreme!
Above, below, on every side, high shelved
From careless grasp of transient interest,
Stand books we can but dimly see, their charm
Much greater that their titles are unread;
While on a level with the dusty floor
Others are ranged in orderly confusion,
And we must stoop in painful posture while
We read their names and learn their histories.
The little gallery winds round about
The middle of a most secluded room,
Midway between the ceiling and the floor.
A type of those high thoughts, which while we read
Hover between the earth and furthest
As fancy wills, leaving the printed page;
For books but give the theme, our hearts the rest,
Enriching simple words with unguessed harmony
And overtones of thought we only know.
And as we sit long hours quietly,
Reading at times, and at times simply dreaming,
The very room itself becomes a friend,
The confidant of intimate hopes and fears;
A place where are engendered pleasant thoughts,
And possibilities before unguessed
Come to fruition born of sympathy.
And as in some gay garden stretched upon
A genial southern slope, warmed by the sun,
The flowers give their fragrance joyously
To the caressing touch of the hot noon;
So books give up the all of what they mean
Only in a congenial atmosphere,
Only when touched by reverent hands, and read
By those who love and feel as well as think.
For books are more than books, they are the life,
The very heart and core of ages past,
The reason why men lived, and worked, and died,
The essence and quintessence of their lives.
And we may know them better, and divine
The inner motives whence their actions sprang,
Far better than the men who only knew
Their bodily presence, the soul forever hid
From those with no ability to see.
They wait here quietly for us to come
And find them out, and know them for our friends;
These men who toiled and wrote only for this,
To leave behind such modicum of truth
As each perceived and each alone could tell.
Silently waiting that from time to time
It may be given them to illuminate
Dull daily facts with pristine radiance
For some long-waited-for affinity
Who lingers yet in the deep womb of time.
The shifting sun pierces the young green leaves
Of elm trees, newly coming into bud,
And splashes on the floor and on the books
Through old, high, rounded windows, dim with age.
The noisy city-sounds of modern life
Float softened to us across the old graveyard.
The room is filled with a warm, mellow light,
No garish colours jar on our content,
The books upon the shelves are old and worn.
‘T was no belated effort nor attempt
To keep abreast with old as well as new
That placed them here, tricked in a modern guise,
Easily got, and held in light esteem.
Our fathers’ fathers, slowly and carefully
Gathered them, one by one, when they were new
And a delighted world received their thoughts
Hungrily; while we but love the more,
Because they are so old and grown so dear!
The backs of tarnished gold, the faded boards,
The slightly yellowing page, the strange old type,
All speak the fashion of another age;
The thoughts peculiar to the man who wrote
Arrayed in garb peculiar to the time;
As though the idiom of a man were caught
Imprisoned in the idiom of a race.
A nothing truly, yet a link that binds
All ages to their own inheritance,
And stretching backward, dim and dimmer still,
Is lost in a remote antiquity.
Grapes do not come of thorns nor figs of thistles,
And even a great poet’s divinest thought
Is coloured by the world he knows and sees.
The little intimate things of every day,
The trivial nothings that we think not of,
These go to make a part of each man’s life;
As much a part as do the larger thoughts
He takes account of. Nay, the little things
Of daily life it is which mold, and shape,
And make him apt for noble deeds and true.
And as we read some much-loved masterpiece,
Read it as long ago the author read,
With eyes that brimmed with tears as he saw
The message he believed in stamped in type
Inviolable for the slow-coming years;
We know a certain subtle sympathy,
We seem to clasp his hand across the past,
His words become related to the time,
He is at one with his own glorious creed
And all that in his world was dared and done.
The long, still, fruitful hours slip away
Shedding their influences as they pass;
We know ourselves the richer to have sat
Upon this dusty floor and dreamed our dreams.
No other place to us were quite the same,
No other dreams so potent in their charm,
For this is ours! Every twist and turn
Of every narrow stair is known and loved;
Each nook and cranny is our very own;
The dear, old, sleepy place is full of spells
For us, by right of long inheritance.
The building simply bodies forth a thought
Peculiarly inherent to the race.
And we, descendants of that elder time,
Have learnt to love the very form in which
The thought has been embodied to our years.
And here we feel that we are not alone,
We too are one with our own richest past;
And here that veiled, but ever smouldering fire
Of race, which rarely seen yet never dies,
Springs up afresh and warms us with its heat.
And must they take away this treasure house,
To us so full of thoughts and memories;
To all the world beside a dismal place
Lacking in all this modern age requires
To tempt along the unfamiliar paths
And leafy lanes of old time literatures?
It takes some time for moss and vines to grow
And warmly cover gaunt and chill stone walls
Of stately buildings from the cold North Wind.
The lichen of affection takes as long,
Or longer, ere it lovingly enfolds
A place which since without it were bereft,
All stript and bare, shorn of its chiefest grace.
For what to us were halls and corridors
However large and fitting, if we part
With this which is our birthright; if we lose
A sentiment profound, unsoundable,
Which Time’s slow ripening alone can make,
And man’s blind foolishness so quickly mar.