Archive for October 9th, 2020

Friday, 9 October 2020

Public Library by Karl Jay Shapiro

To E.P.F.L.

Voltaire would weep for joy, Plato would stare.
What is it, easier than a church to enter,
Politer than a department store, this centre
That like Grand Central leads to everywhere?
Is it more civic than the City Hall?
For whose great heart is this the monument?
Where is the reader at the stationer’s stall,
The copyist hollow-eyed and bald and bent?

Its one demand is freedom, its one motto
Deep in the door, Read, Know and Tolerate.
That tree of knowledge from which Adam ate
Flourishes here, our costly quid pro quo.
It shades us like a Mission with its green,
Its girls, its neatness, and its excellent quiet.
In all the city no paving is so clean,
So broad, so permanent. Croesus cannot buy it.

Long long ago these photographs of thought
In cell and stoa and school and catacomb
Accumulated; scroll, palimpsest, tome,
Books chained to walls and Bibles bound in brass,
Fragments of science, cherished, disinterred,
And one found a machine that like a glass
Could mirror, multiply and save the word.

Who kriows? Some disappointed scholar here,
Some poet with vision faultless as a beam,
Some child with half-articulated dream,
May reach and touch the spring that opens clear
On brilliant prospects of new history.
How many daily doubts are here resolved,
Secrets exhumed, brought out of mystery,
Hypotheses defeated, cases solved?

And what we call behaviour and goodwill
Are modelled here in fiction. On the slate
Of the fresh mind fresh images dilate,
And lives turn at a phrase, and lives stand still.
This gathering of silent volumes roars
Uninterrupted, ceaseless, without ban;
These teachings break through wide-flung open doors,
The Talmud, Naso, and The Rights of Man.

May 24, 1943,
New Guinea.

From: Shapiro, Karl, “Public Library” in Southerly: The Magazine of the Australian English Association, Sydney, Volume Five, Number One, 1944, p. 4.

Date: 1943

By: Karl Jay Shapiro (1913-2000)